Monday, the Supreme Court began its 1996-97 term, and it has before it a case that is especially vital to our future. The Court will decide whether states can continue to ban "doctor-assisted suicide," more precisely known as active euthanasia.
Its decision will at some point impact millions of elderly and infirm Americans - from our relatives to our friends and to ourselves.
This case is about whether America's highest court will lead our nation in a greater respect for life, or whether it will continue the dangerous trend of disrespect for life it began over two decades ago when it legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade.
If the Supreme Court decides to leave state bans on active euthanasia in place, there is distinct hope that states will act to protect the lives of those in pain by continuing to work on positive options.
Those include improving care in hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities, paving the way for alternative home care options, making "dead-beat children" responsible for their elderly parents' care and enforcing the Americans With Disabilities Act.
If, however, the Court decides that states may no longer ban active euthanasia, America will be shoved yet a bit further down its most disastrous slippery slope, the one very accurately called "the culture of death."
The United States must choose between two approaches to the end of life, epitomized by the two types of euthanasia, passive and active.
Passive euthanasia, a widely supported and legal option, which is not addressed in the Supreme Court case, is the removal of life support, allowing a person to die a natural death. This is the approach taken by those who try to do all they can to ease the pain of those they love.
But once these attempts prove futile, passive euthanasia allows these people to pass-on as peacefully as possible. This, of course, is very difficult for the person dying and for family and friends, but we can help by offering the elderly and infirm compa ssionate care and support, certainly kinder than the crude alternative.
Active euthanasia, on the other hand, is deliberately taking a suffering person's life through artificial means, such as the ingestion of a deadly combination of drugs, deliberately prescribed by a doctor.
The most prominent practitioner of illegal active euthanasia is Jack Kevorkian, the retired pathologist with a truly macabre habit of leaving his deceased "patients" in wheelchairs at the door of hospital emergency rooms.
Some call this approach "death with dignity," but if we love our relatives and friends, we do not allow a freakish man who delights in making gross remarks about death to take their lives, and then leave their bodies for the world to gawk at.
Though this is probably not what mainstream supporters of active euthanasia envision, the taking of life, be it by neat, computer-regulated, fatal medication or by messy skull-smashing, is never as pretty as some would claim, and it is certainly not permi ssible in a country that guarantees our most basic rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
Without the right to life, every other right this country is built on is rendered meaningless, especially for the victims.
This is why we must hope the Supreme Court stops destroying state laws that ban active euthanasia, as it tragically did in the cases of New York and Washington
The Court should let the states protect their citizens from their pain-stricken decisions or those of others.
In Arizona, for example, a survey of 711 people in the July 19 Arizona Daily Star showed that 64 percent of them support active euthanasia, currently illegal here. Another survey mentioned showed that 58 percent of respondents would support legalizing ac tive euthanasia.
If this group has its way, Arizona will have no recourse to protect those who are asking for help.
As Dr. Carolyn Gerster pointed out in the Star article, "committing suicide is 'the easiest thing in the world to do'...[and] those who seek help from a doctor...clearly are 'ambivalent' about ending their lives and should not be helped by doctors."
Those reaching for active euthanasia are asking for help in living. We can help them, and we should.
Kristen Roberts is an Arts and Sciences sophomore. Her column, 'Life in Balance' appears every other Thursday. Her homepage can be found at http://www.u.arizona.edu/~knr.