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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 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 suicide is in principle morally permissible For health care workers the issue of the right to die is most prominent when a patient in their care 1 is terminally ill 2 is in intense pain and 3 voluntarily chooses to end his life to escape prolonged suffering In these cases there are several theoretical options open to the health care worker First the worker can ignore the patients request and care can continue as usual Second the worker can discontinue providing life-sustaining treatment to the patient and thus allow him to die more quickly This option is called passive euthanasia since it brings on death through nonintervention Third the health care worker can provide the patient with the means of taking his own life such as a lethal dose of a drug This practice is called assisted suicide since it is the patient and not technically the health care worker who administers the drug Finally the health care worker can take active measures to end the patients life such as by directly administering a lethal dose of a drug This practice is called active euthanasia since the health care workers action is the direct cause of the patients death Active euthanasia is the most controversial of the four options and is currently illegal in the United States However several right to die organizations are lobbying for the laws against active euthanasia to change Two additional concepts are relevant to the discussion of euthanasia First voluntary euthanasia
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