Protesters who oppose any form of euthanasia were treading on shaky ethical ground in their demand for a reversal of the recent ruling allowing the removal of a feeding tube from Nancy Cruzan. To argue that the Cruzan case is merely an extension of the right-to-life cause reflects a bargain-basement mentality that trivializes the worth of individual human lives and their right to live or die with dignity.

A 33-year-old woman who has been comatose for seven years with severe brain damage is not in the same situation as a preborn fetus who has the potential of living for seven or more decades or a newborn with Down syndrome and a surgically correctable anomaly who could have dozens of happy years ahead in spite of a low IQ.

One case does not fit all. The same preacher in Ecclesiastes who said there is a time to be born and a time to die also said there is “a time to search and a time to give up” (3:6, NIV).

In today’s society, where technological advances have given us the power to prolong the quantity of life long beyond what most believe is life with any degree of quality, pulling the plug or removing the tube should not be considered a sin of commission but a humble acknowledgment of our finitude.

Immediately after a tragic accident that seems to wipe out all or most of its victim’s vital functions, it is often impossible to read the future. The person might someday surprise us, wake up, and walk. In those too-close-to-call situations where life hangs in the balance, it is far better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all. And if we fail, and if there is no miracle, we need the honesty to admit it and the courage to discontinue life-extending (or body-extending) measures.

Advocates of ...

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