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One of the most important public policy debates today surrounds the issues of euthanasia and assisted suicide The outcome of that debate will profoundly affect family relationships interaction between doctors and patients and concepts of basic ethical behavior With so much at stake more is needed than a duel of one-liners slogans and sound bites One way to distinguish euthanasia and assisted suicide is to look at the last act - the act without which death would not occur Using this distinction if a third party performs the last act that intentionally causes a patients death euthanasia has occurred For example giving a patient a lethal injection or putting a plastic bag over her head to suffocate her would be considered euthanasia On the other hand if the person who dies performs the last act assisted suicide has taken place Thus it would be assisted suicide if a person swallows an overdose of drugs that has been provided by a doctor for the purpose of causing death It would also be assisted suicide if a patient pushes a switch to trigger a fatal injection after the doctor has inserted an intravenous needle into the patients vein Modern medicine has definitely lengthened life spans A century ago high blood pressure pneumonia appendicitis and diabetes likely meant death often accompanied by excruciating pain Women had shorter life expectancies than men since many died in childbirth Antibiotics immunizations modern surgery and many of todays routine therapies or medications were unknown then A lot of people think that euthanasia or assisted suicide is needed so patients wont be forced to remain alive by being hooked up to machines But the law already permits patients or their surrogates to withhold or withdraw unwanted medical treatment even if that increases the likelihood that the patient will die Thus no one needs to be hooked up to machines against their will Neither the law nor medical ethics requires that everything be done
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