Plato's Dialogues Essay

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Euthanasia in the Style of Plato

Euthanasia -- a Moral Duty or a Moral Wrong?

In Ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt, the general view for society was that if an individual was no longer interested in continuing their existence, society had no right to ensure that they remain alive. The idea of euthanasia, or ending one's life to alleviate physical or mental suffering, has thus been a continual controversy for thousands of years. In modern times, in the 1930s there were organizations that aided in awareness and legalization of voluntary and assisted suicide (the Hemlock Society, the Voluntary Euthanasia Society). The issue became media frenzy in the late 1990s with the media attention surrounding assisted suicide -- and continues to remain a contentious and debated issue. While there is no universal answer for the topic -- much like there are different protocols for different diseases -- it is clear that 21st century morality requires a focus upon the individual's ability to make sound and cogent decisions for their own lives. For some, this may mean placing their faith in a higher power, for others, though, the option to terminate their own life to avoid pain, suffering and burden should be allowed.

Participants: Dr. Mack Kevork (MK), President of the U.S. Hemlock Society and Reverend Jerry Followell (JF) Senior Minister for the United Evangelical Forum; mediator, Alison Stewart (AS), co-Anchor of PBS's web newsmagazine Need to Know.

Event: Informal debate/conversation presented by the Association for Public Broadcasters.

Transcript: AS: Welcome everyone to tonight's informal debate and discussion on a topic that has been in the news for decades, the idea of the moral nature of euthanasia. In general, euthanasia is a term that has a number of meanings for different disciplines. It is a philosophical subject, a medical issue, a legal contention, and a moral issue that divides people of all ages, races and locations. Essentially, the term means purposefully ending a life in order to alleviate an individual's suffering, pain or discomfort. Passive euthanasia is intentionally withholding treatment or medicine; active euthanasia is assisting in the demise of another human being. Both are extremely controversial, and focus on dozens of issues: what is quality of life? Does a person have the right to choose their time and means of death? What constitutes suffering and who defines this? What if a person so fears debilitation that the prefer death? And what constitutes a painless or "happy death?" While it is unlikely that we will come to an agreement tonight considering the span of disagreement between our two guests, we might ask ourselves if in the 21st century how do we define personal responsibility and the actual definition of life vs. existence.

Our guests tonight are two gentlemen who have written and spoken about the subject for many years. Dr. Mack Kevork is an American pathologist and pro-euthanasia activist. He champions individual rights and has claimed to have assisted over 100 patients in their death saying "dying is not a crime." Dr. Kevork spent 10 years in prison for a direct role in the suicide of a patient on the condition that he not personally assist anyone in terminating their own life. Reverend Jerry Followell, an ordained Baptist Minister, host of his own evangelical television show, and author of a number of books on modern spirituality is a cofounder of the Moral Majority as well as two Christian academies. He has been vocal about his views on pornography, the teaching of evolution, homosexuality, and the notion that only God has the right to decide when a person should live or die. Welcome Gentlemen; let's start first by allowing you to briefly summarize your position on the topic of euthanasia. By a coin toss, Dr. Kevork will begin.

JK: Thank you Alison, for allowing me to be a part of your program tonight. I certainly agree that the subject is of great moral and personal value. We live in a society now in which medical science has now progressed to the point where certain heroic measures can keep a physical body "functioning" for an indefinite period of time, even without any brain activity. Unfortunately, this does not mean that the quality of life for the individual is even apparent. I bring up the case of Terri Schiavo. Mrs. Schiavo was injured and diagnosed as being in a persistent…

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