The issue of assisted suicide has been brought to the forefront of public attention in the North America largely through the activities of Dr. Jack Kevorkian in the United States, and the Sue Rodriguez case in Canada (Ferraiuolo, 1994, p. 78). Long before Jack Kevorkian and Sue Rodriguez became public figures, however, the Hemlock Society was advocating a person's right to make a choice about her or his own death--the individual's right to die (Byock, 1991, pp. 51-66).
Further complicating the issue of the right of an individual to make decisions concerning her or his own death is the confusion introduced into the debate through attempts to equate an individual's right to die with euthanasia. Euthanasia is defined most often as the painless putting to death persons suffering from incurable diseases or other types of incurable and intolerable health conditions. Considered only in this very general context, the act of a person opting to commit suicide in some painless way to escape an intolerable health condition could be viewed as a form of euthanasia. This approach to the issue most often is favored by Roman Catholics and Fundamentalist Christians opposed to the concept of an individual's right to make decisions concerning her or his own death. This approach to the relationship between euthanasia and an individual's right to die appears to suffer, however, from a lack of intellectual honesty.
Euthanasia implies that some party other than the individual who is to die makes the decision concerning how and when that individual should die. The essence of the concept of the right to die, however, is that such decisions are made by the individual who is to die. The intellectually bankrupt opponents of the right of an individual to make decisions concerning her or his own death, however, extend their flawed argument even further by contending that, regardless of who makes the decisions regarding an individual's death, if the indiv...
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