The applied ethical issue of euthanasia, or mercy killing, concerns whether it is morally permissible for a third party, such as a physician, to end the life of a terminally ill patient who is in intense pain. The word euthanasia comes from the Greek words eu (‘well’) and thanatos (‘death’). It means a painless and gentle death. But in modern usage, it has come to imply that someone’s life is ended for compassionate reasons by some passive or active steps taken by another person. The euthanasia controversy is part of a larger issue concerning the right to die. Staunch defenders of personal liberty argue that all of us are morally entitled to end our lives when we see fit. Thus, according to these people, euthanasia is in principle morally permissible. Two additional concepts are relevant to the discussion of euthanasia. First, voluntary euthanasia refers to mercy killing that takes place with the explicit and voluntary consent of the patient, either verbally or in a written document such as a living will. Second, non-voluntary euthanasia refers to the mercy killing of a patient who is unconscious, comatose, or otherwise unable to explicitly make his intentions known. (Downing 1969) In these cases it is often family members who make the request. It is important not to confuse non-voluntary mercy killing with involuntary mercy killing. The latter would be done against the wishes of the patient and would clearly count as murder.
Like the moral issues surrounding suicide, the problem of euthanasia has a long history of philosophical discussion. On the whole, ancient Greek thinkers seem to have favored euthanasia, even though they opposed suicide. An exception is Hippocrates (460-370 BCE), the ancient Greek physician, who in his famous oath states, "I will not prescribe a deadly drug to please someone, nor give advice that may cause his death." (Baird 1989) In medieval times, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim philosophers opposed active euthanasia, although the Christian Church has always accepted passive euthanasia.
Conflicting opinion is seen to be found when people talk about euthanasia. Some say it is good because people should have the right to choose what they want to happen to themselves. If they choose to end their suffering they should be able to do it without being made to feel like they have done something wrong. Some lay some guidelines and say that they believe that if someone has had an accident or contracted a disease that is incurable, and that disease or accident means that they are unable to think beyond a vegetable stage, or that their illness causes so much pain that it is insufferable, then it is that persons right to ask to die. If the person is in a coma situation and unable to make the decision for himself/herself, then it should be a decision for the family and doctors together to make.
There are several arguments in favor of the moral permissibility of euthanasia. The most persuasive argument is mercy. People who...