Euthanasia is a controversial subject, not only because there are many different
moral dilemmas associated with it, but also in what constitutes its definition.

At the extreme ends of disagreement, advocates say euthanasia (which in Greek
means “easy death”) is a good, or merciful, death. Opponents of
euthanasia say it is a fancy word for murder. Between the two extremes, there
are various positions for and against euthanasia. One position opposes cases of
“active” euthanasia, where an active, or overt, effort is made to
bring about death, such as in administering a lethal injection, but accept
“passive” euthanasia, which is generally described as declining to
initiate extraordinary or even ordinary medical treatment, as moral. Another
position advocates that passive euthanasia is acceptable when the person to die
has consented. Other positions include situations where a terminally ill patient
is unable to consent as justifiable, because it resolves a hopeless situation.

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Conversely, even with this gradation, some opponents to euthanasia believe that
voluntary, passive euthanasia is the same as suicide; involuntary euthanasia is
considered to be murder. Because euthanasia poses classic dilemmas as to its
morality, it is not surprising that many issues arise in the legal and medical
arenas. In law, the resolution of a particular case cannot always be applied to
resolve another. In the medical realm, interpretation of medical doctrine
concerning treatment of terminally-ill patients can result in entirely different
applications. In two relatively recent cases, the Supreme Court had to decide
the future of patients that were considered to be in chronically persistent
vegetative states. The courts had to decide whether to continue with the
prevailing treatment, as advocated by the medical community, or discontinue
treatment at the request of the patients’ guardians. The courts considered
several factors in making a determination: What are the state’s interests in
terms of human life? When does the patient’s right to refuse treatment override
the state’s interest? What does the right to refuse treatment entail, and is it
included in the patient’s right to privacy? Do a patient’s guardians have the
right to refuse treatment on behalf of a patient? What constitutes ordinary and
extraordinary medical treatment? The court indicated that a patient’s right to
refuse treatment was an extension of the constitutionally-derived “right to
privacy” and, more importantly, permitted the assignment of those rights to
Quinlan’s guardians.

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