Ethical Dilemma


(Part One in a Two-Part Series on Euthanasia)
by J. P. Moreland

In June of 1990, Dr. Jack Kevorkian, a 63-year-old retired pathologist, was charged with first-degree murder after he
helped an Oregon woman with Alzheimer's disease commit suicide in June 1990. The charge was dismissed in
December 1990. (Michigan has no law against suicide.) In October of 1991, Marjorie Wantz used a suicide machine
devised by Kevorkian to take her own life. Kevorkian also assisted Sherry Miller in an act of suicide by pulling a
mask over her face so she would inhale carbon monoxide from a tank. Miller's veins were too delicate for a needle
involved in Kevorkian's suicide machine. The police found both bo dies in a cabin 40 miles north of Detroit. Miller
was incapacitated by multiple sclerosis and Wantz suffered from a painful pelvic condition. Neither condition was
life threatening.
During 1991, one of the top-selling books in America was Final Exit written by Derek Humphry. Humphry, cofounder of the National Hemlock Society (a right -to-die group), wrote the book to advocate the moral
appropriateness of suicide and active euthanasia and to instruct people in the practical how -to's of taking their own
lives. Based on the book's sales, there is a growing hunger for this type of information.
These cases illustrate the fact that the rise of advanced medical technologies, especially life -sustaining ones, has
brought to center stage the various moral issues i nvolved in euthanasia. People can be kept alive against their wishes
or in states of pain and other forms of suffering (e.g., loss of control, fatigue, depression, and hopelessness). It is also
possible to keep people alive who are in a coma or a persisten t vegetative state. The former refers to a condition
wherein the eyes are closed, the person cannot be aroused, and there is no sleep/wake cycle. The latter refers to a
condition wherein...