Opponents of euthanasia have long warned of a “slippery slope” leading to a reckless disregard for the right to life of terminally ill or mentally incompetent patients. And recent events have led a number of these activists to argue that American society is further down that slope than many realize.

Among the developments cited are recent court rulings favoring the withholding of medical treatment—including artificially administered food and water—from seriously ill patients, and the growing potential in several states of legalized physician-assisted suicides by the terminally ill.

Assisted Death

One of the most intensely debated aspects of “active euthanasia” is physician-assisted suicide. Should doctors be allowed to administer lethal injections or fatal medications to terminally ill patients who request them? Active euthanasia is most widely practiced in the Netherlands, where it claims the lives of an estimated 7,000 terminally ill and incompetent patients each year. Although the practice is illegal, Dutch courts permit “mercy killing” as a legal defense for doctors charged with killing their patients.

The practice is highly controversial in the United States, but advocates of active euthanasia are becoming more visible. In California, a group called Americans Against Human Suffering (AAHS) is working to put the issue to a statewide vote in November 1988. Next month, the group will begin collecting the 450,000 signatures needed to place on the state ballot an initiative that would allow physicians to provide a means of death for terminally ill patients who request it.

The proposal, called the “Humane and Dignified Death Initiative,” calls for amending the California ...

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