Euthanasia, A Sociological View
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The Euthanasia Debate,
The Thomas Theorem
Topic: Euthanasia related to the Thomas Theorem
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In The Unadjusted Girl W.I.Thomas wrote, “Preliminary to any self-determined act of behavior there is always a stage of examination and deliberation which we may call the definition of the situation. And actually not only concrete acts are dependent on the definition of the situation, but gradually a whole life-policy and the personality of the individual himself follow from a series of such definitions.” (University of Missouri St Louis web site. W. I. Thomas – Definition of the Situation.)
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines euthanasia as “follows:
“eu*tha*na*sia Pronunciation: “yÑŒ-th&-nA-zh(E-)&
Etymology: Greek, easy death, from euthanatos, from eu- + thanatos death: the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals (as persons or domestic animals) in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy.” (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary 2004.)
B. A. Robinson says that most people in North America die a bad death. He cites a study which found that often people die in pain, with their wants and wishes ignored, and spending days and weeks in an intensive care unit. He goes on to define various forms of euthanasia.
Passive Euthanasia is basically letting a person die. This is the case that is pretty much legal and has little argument in todays society. It covers the Do Not Resuscitate orders and the withdrawal of heroic measures, along with pulling the plug on respirators, stopping medications, up to and including in many cases withdrawing food and water, which lets the person die of starvation and dehydration. Robinson says that one of the most common forms of passive euthanasia is to give large quantities of morphine or similar medications ostensibly to reduce pain, but with the knowledge that this kind of dosage can shorten life. This is called a dual effect; pain is eased, and life is shortened. This is considered ethical in most political jurisdictions and medical societies. These procedures, or withholding of procedures, sometimes are performed on people in persistent vegetative states in which they cannot give consent or give instructions regarding their desires.
The main controversy, surrounds more emotionally charged definitions of more active forms of euthanasia. Robinson defines these as follows.
Active Euthanasia involves the causing of death of a person through direct action, at the request of that person. Dr. J. Kevorkian is serving a prison sentence for 2nd degree murder for causing the death of an ALS patient in Michigan who feared dying a horrible death. If the active euthanasia is assisted by a physician who supplies or prescribes the lethal dose, then it is called Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS). “Voluntary Passive Euthanasia” (VPE) has found favor as a term to define this form of suicide. The difference between PAS and VPE is the activity level of the physician. In PAS the doctor administers the lethal dose at the request of the patient, while with VPE the doctor provides the instruments of death, which the patient then actively uses to cause death of self.
Non-Voluntary Euthanasia, or involuntary euthanasia, is the causing of death of another without that persons consent, instruction, or known desire. It is considered passive if ventilation, feeding, hydration, or life-prolonging treatment such as CPR is withheld, thus letting the person die through non-intervention. This is the classic Karen Ann Quinlan kind of situation. It is considered active if someone does something that causes death, such as a lethal dose of medication, strangling, or otherwise taking an action to cause the death.
Robinson then states many of the reasons people might want to end their lives, such as terminal illness, slow degenerative disease, chronic pain, and deteriorating quality of life. One of the reasons people want to have physician-assisted suicide is that they need help to die the way they want at a time they want under the conditions they want. He also states that physician assisted suicide is legal only in the State of Oregon and in the Netherlands. ( Religious Tolerance.Org web site) A CNN site states that Netherlands laws still treat physician assisted suicide as a criminal act, but if certain criteria are met, the State will not prosecute. (CNN web site, Dutch euthanasia law – whats involved, November 28, 2000)
The debate between the two sides of the argument is dependent on words and their definitions. “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” George Orwell (Quoted on International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide web site.)
Rita L. Marker and Wesley J. Smith of the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide address the semantics issue. The Task Force position is that familiar words and terminology are being twisted and misinterpreted by euthanasia supporters to alter perceived reality to their ends. For example, a straightforward statement like, “If Im terminally ill, the only medical treatment I want is comfort care,” could be seen as a request to die, even if the person has a good chance of living months if not years. “Terminally ill” has been used as a reason to euthanize, and “comfort care” has been defined as the means of inducing death.
We normally would not consider administering carbon monoxide as a procedure in a heroic effort to control suffering. Referring to this procedure as a kind of new age hospice care would not usually be believed. Yet, Marker and Smith claim, that these are exactly the terms used by Stanley Levy, MD, a geriatric internal medicine specialist.
Marker and Smith contend that the interpretation of words and their understood meanings are rarely more crucial in social movements than in the debate over euthanasia and assisted suicide. Rarely have words been used so effectively to first blur, then to completely