[FOUNTAIN]Exploring Euthanasia

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[FOUNTAIN]Exploring Euthanasia

Euthanasia means the act of putting to death painlessly or allowing to die, as by withholding medical measures from a person or animal suffering from an incurable, and particularly a painful, disease or condition. The word has its root in ancient Greek, eu meaning easy and thanatos meaning death. The term "mercy killing" means the same, but with a little more emphasis on the notion of a murder. Germans use a specific term, sterbehilfe, meaning "help for death."

The controversy over euthanasia has deep roots. The Hippocratic oath includes a reference to euthanasia: "I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel." It seems euthanasia was hotly debated even in ancient Greece. Entering the modern era, Thomas More argued the case for euthanasia in his "Utopia," published in the 16th century.

Recently, the controversial debate has been set alight again after the U.S.'s CBS television network aired its now infamous "60 Minutes" news program on euthanasia in November 1998. The program showed Dr. Jack Kevorkian - nicknamed "Doctor Death" - administering a lethal injection to a man suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease. Mr. Kevorkian, who assisted the deaths of 130 terminally ill patients, was found guilty of second-degree murder and is currently in jail. In his trial, the tape he gave to CBS showing him giving a lethal injection played a decisive role in the guilty verdict. Yet Mr. Kevorkian has also received a Citizen Activist Award from a private U.S. organization. His actions are, for some, cause for praise, not punishment.

The Netherlands, which has unofficially tolerated assisted suicide since 1994, legalized the practice of euthanasia on Tuesday. The Dutch parliament's upper house approved the bill, which passed the lower house last November. The new Dutch law makes the Netherlands the first nation in the world openly to allow euthanasia. (In 1997, the U.S. state of Oregon established the Death With Dignity Act which allows physicians to perform assisted suicides.) However, the Dutch law incorporates stringent requirements: The patient's suffering must be unbearable, without prospect of improvement, and the request must be voluntary and made when the patient is conscious. Since many terminally ill patients long for a painless death, it is likely that the practice of euthanasia will skyrocket, stirring more controversy.

Although the moral arguments for and against euthanasia have not been fully explored in Korea, voices defending the necessity of such a practice are becoming more numerous. A recent poll showed that 76 percent of the respondents supported the practice. It is time for us to bring euthanasia to the surface for open discussion.

by Yoo Jae-sik

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