The Cases that Changed Right-to-Die Laws in the US



Does a person have the right to end their own life when it is full of pain and incurable suffering? How about someone else's life? Modern medical miracles sometimes come with a horrific cost. We may be able to save lives that were once doomed, but if it leaves the patient with severe brain damage, in a coma, or in a vegetative state, what have we gained? We've gained some deep ethical and philosophical questions, like what is the minimum standard of a life worth living? In the case of Terri Schiavo, which you may recall from the turn of the century, a 26-year-old woman was left severely brain-damaged and in a vegetative state after a heart attack. Years later, her husband proposed removing her feeding tube, the only artificial life support technology Schiavo required. Her parents objected on the grounds that you don't stop feeding someone because they are disabled. The case dragged on for years, and eventually led to reviews of the laws around life support and death with dignity.

The ethical questions remain, though. You may believe it is okay to refuse life support or life-saving interventions, but not active euthanasia. But what if the patient is unable to express their wishes? What if the patient with a terminal illness or profound disabilities or untreatable pain really wants to end their suffering but needs assistance to carry out that wish? As medical science continues to extend life beyond our ability to enjoy it, these questions will only get more difficult.


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