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Euthanasia is the deliberate ending of a life for sympathetic or quality-of-life reasons. In the last two decades, right-to-death has become a hot-button issue for government, raising questions about its ethical morality.
Current debates focus on Euthanasia's status as assisted suicide by the dying or involuntary murder by the assisting physician. Dr. Jack Kevorkian is the most famous enthusiast; his public trial made euthanasia a household word. The most famous recent case was that of Terri Schiavo, a whose husband permitted the removal of her feeding tube after fifteen years in a non-responsive coma.
Elsewhere in the world, assisted suicide is more common; recently, author Terry Pratchett, who is suffering from a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer's, declared his intent not to die in suffering and dementia but of his own free will.
The problem with assisted suicide is determining if the patient is truly in a sound state of mind to request it. Coma patients, like Terri Schiavo, cannot make their choice known directly, and it falls to family and whatever legal documents exist to help make the determination. In Schiavo's case, there was no living will, and her parents wanted to take her under care to keep her alive, insisting that she showed responses to their presence. In rebuttal, Schiavo's husband pointed out her fifteen-year coma and brain scans which showed no activity. Her autopsy later confirmed that her brain was severely damaged from lack of oxygen, and likely could never have resumed normal, self-aware function.
At the moment, there is no structure in place for government involvement in private matters of health, but this is rapidly changing. When determining quality-of-life, there is no objective standard; a completely paralyzed person may be happy with his lot while a person missing one foot may be suicidal. In the absence of deliberate legislation, courts can only intervene in cases like Schiavo's, where immediate family have a reasonable interest in welfare. Otherwise, it falls to individual states to make legal decisions regarding right-to-death; Oregon, for example, allows physician-assisted suicide in short-term terminal cases.
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