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Religious Traditions

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There are, perhaps, no issues that are quite as polarizing for human beings as those matters concerning the right to life, on the one hand, and the right to die, on the other. For people who come from religious traditions that convey clear beliefs about these issues, the answer to the question, "Do people have a right to die?" elicits an automatic response: God makes life, and He is the only entity that can decide when life should be terminated. While such a belief is respectable in American society, it suggests a simplistic resolution to medical dilemmas that are anything but simple. As the recent case of Terri Schiavo indicated, issues related to autonomy are often hidden by complex medical questions that are not answered easily. Schiavo's condition provides an interesting case for the study of the right to die debate, and suggests that individuals should have the right to die when their circumstances and conditions clearly suggest that there is little or no likelihood for their recovery.

One of the complicating factors in the case of Schiavo, and the fact that made the decision to euthanize her so agonizing for all of the individuals involved, was that Schiavo had never articulated--at least not on paper--what her wishes were should such a tragedy happen to her. Nonetheless, there are documents that are used for exactly this purpose. Living wills are important documents that all people should consider completing so that their wishes to live or die in an extreme situation can be made known, not only to their loved ones, but also to the legal and medical entities that will be in charge of carrying out the decisions that will either continue or end life. Had Terri Schiavo had a living will, her 15-year battle would have been far more humane and respectful. Instead of having her feeding tube removed and then reinserted numerous times, she could have died with some dignity surrounded by her entire family.

One of the persistent problems in the right to die debate is that this subject is emotionally charged. This is one of the reasons why information and knowledge are important to bring to a discussion of the right to die. People of sound mind should have the right to die if they are suffering from an extreme physical condition, which has no hope of a cure, and if they have arrived at that decision with full understanding of their condition, its prognosis, and all viable alternatives. People should be able to decide when the length of their own lives becomes less important than the quality of life and the relationships that they can enjoy in their final days.

While the right to die is a complex matter, involving serious and profoundly important ethical, moral, religious, and philosophical concerns, it is important that we talk more about this subject and study it rationally, rather than avoid it because of our fear of death. As technology continues to develop, it is likely that the right to die, and the right



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