Right to Die Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

right to die. The writer uses analytical skills to dissect and argue several right to die cases that have been presented in court in America. The writer discusses the ethics of the practice as well as presents ideas about the future "right to die" arguments and cases. There were eight sources used to complete this paper.

Through the advances of medical science people are living longer than ever before. Those who are chronically ill are being helped in the quest to alleviate symptoms and those who might have become ill in the past are being cured. The medical science advances have also allowed those who would have died in the past from head injuries, car crashes, gun shots wounds and other accidents to live. All of the advances that have been made have worked in favor for millions of people who otherwise would have died. The advances are also providing an improved quality of life for those who experience medical success, but what about those who do not? One of the risks that come with the ability to lengthen life and save those who otherwise would have died is that there are some who are being held in a sort of neutral zone between life and death. In addition there are patients who are diagnosed with terminal illnesses and the advances of the medical community cause them to suffer much longer than they would have in the past.

This has brought a focus on the right to die.

The right to die is not a new issue. It has been debated for many years in the courtrooms of America. The right to die debate focuses on a patient's right to decide their life should end. It is also when a family of a vegetative patient asks for permission to let their loved one die. As the medical community becomes even more advance it will become important to decide the right to die issues. The ability to live longer is a benefit to those who have an acceptable standard of living in the process. But there are many patients who will suffer needlessly and for longer periods because of the advances of medicine.

Those are the patients who are caught in the web of the right to die argument. Advocates of the right to die argument believe that each person should have a right to end their suffering, while detractors believe it is a slippery slope and once started will not end. Each side believes they are right and only the continued focus on a standard protocol will be able to solve the problem.

What has happened thus far?

When it comes to the issue of right to die there are very few who remain neutral. Most people are either strongly it or strongly against it. Those who are against it believe that it is a slipper slope. Before one can decide where they stand on the issue, it is important to first understand what it is about.

The right to die issue is founded in the argument of whether or not a person should have the right to choose to die. This has been a debate for many years but in more recent years there has been a lot of publicity on it because of people like Dr. Jack Kevorkian who assisted patients in their own suicide until he was sent to prison when he crossed a line and actually committed murder instead of letting a patient commit a supervised self death. Right to die issues includes several ways of accomplishing the right.

It can be as simple as unplugging a feeding machine and allowing a patient to either self sustain or die, and it can be as complicated as showing a patient how to commit suicide, supplying the ways and means and watching them do it. It can include knowing a patient is going to kill themselves and doing nothing to try and stop them. There are several ways the right to die issue has been argued and tried throughout the years with each debate escalating in intensity.

Karen Ann Quinlan collapsed on April 15th, 1975. She was twenty-one years old. Within hours, she entered a coma from which she could never recover. Her parents, staunch Roman Catholics, knew their daughter would not want to be kept alive by extraordinary means. A year later, as Karen lay in a "persistent vegetative state," the courts finally allowed her treatment to be stopped; but artificial feeding was continued and she was maintained as a living corpse until June 1985, when she eventually died of pneumonia. Her case spurred thousands of letters of sympathy and fuelled the "right to die" movement (Cases in history (http://www.euthanasia.org/cases.html)."

Physician-assisted suicide is one of the ways that the right to die groups believe it should be allowed to occur.

According to those who advocate the right to die are quick to point out it is not really a right to die that is being questioned but a right to refuse medical treatment. This was the case until recent years when physician-assisted suicide became an issue (Physician-Assisted Suicide: The Legal Slippery Slope from Cancer Control: Journal of the Moffitt Cancer Center (http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/409026_7).

The so-called "right to die" is actually a right to refuse unwanted medical treatment. In a long series of right-to-die cases, courts have often found that a person's right to refuse medical treatment is not lost even when that person has lost the capacity to exercise the right. This finding, coupled with a strong desire to preserve personal rights, has led courts to find ways for incapacitated persons to be free of unwanted life-sustaining medical interventions.

The view of the courts is that basic rights, such as the right to self-determination, apply to persons per se and thus are not contingent on their capacity to exercise them. In Quinlan, [6] the New Jersey Supreme Court held that Quinlan's right to choose or refuse mechanical ventilation "should not be discarded solely on the basis that her condition prevents her conscious exercise of the choice." In Saikewicz, [35] which involved an adult with mental incapacity, the Massachusetts Supreme Court wrote," We recognize a general right in all persons to refuse medical treatment in appropriate circumstances. The recognition of that right must extend to the case of an incompetent, as well as a competent, patient because the value of human dignity extends to both." Clearly, then, one of the tenets of right-to-die reasoning is that incompetent persons have the same right to refuse medical treatment that competent persons have (Physician-Assisted Suicide: The Legal Slippery Slope from Cancer Control: Journal of the Moffitt Cancer Center (http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/409026_7)."

One of the first and most famous cases in the right to die debate was the case of Karen Quinlan. Quinlan slipped into a coma and was pronounced in a permanent vegetative state. For many years she was kept alive by tubes and machines though her brain was not showing activity and her body could not fend for itself even in the most simple of tasks such as eating or breathing. Her family wanted her suffering to end not to mention that the financial burden was almost never ending for a person who was never going to recover or improve. The family took the caregivers to court to get the court to give them the right to unplug her feeding tube and allow her to die a natural death. They were refused. It was the first such case in the courts in the nation in recorded history and it received worldwide media attention (Physician-Assisted Suicide: The Legal Slippery Slope from Cancer Control: Journal of the Moffitt Cancer Center (http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/409026_7).

The court sided with the family when it ruled: "Our affirmation of Quinlan's independent right of choice, however, would ordinarily be based upon her competency to assert it. The sad truth, however, is that she is grossly incompetent (Physician-Assisted Suicide: The Legal Slippery Slope from Cancer Control: Journal of the Moffitt Cancer Center (http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/409026_7)."

Her case was not the only one to come before the United States judicial system however.

There were other cases including the case of Bludworth vs. The hospital the patient was being kept alive by machines in. In that case the court again believed that the patient had a right to refuse medical treatment even if they are unable to verbalize it at the time of question. "This right of terminally ill patients should not be lost when they suffer irreversible brain damage, become comatose, and are no longer able to personally express their wishes to discontinue the use of extraordinary artificial support systems (Physician-Assisted Suicide: The Legal Slippery Slope from Cancer Control: Journal of the Moffitt Cancer Center (http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/409026_7)."

Once the person has become irreversibly comatose the court is left trying to decide if the family has the right to allow the loved one to die. In the case of Karen Quinlan the court decided the family could make the decision on behalf of the patient though…

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