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Wednesday April 11, 2001

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Freedom, for life or death

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By Cory Spiller

If you want to die painlessly, go to the Netherlands.

Yesterday, the Netherlands became the first nation to legalize euthanasia, or assisted suicide, and it has caused a local and international uproar. After a 46-28 senate vote passed by the senate, euthanasia now only requires the signature of Queen Beatrix.

America should look to the Netherlands as a leader in this regard. Euthanasia should not only be legal for those who suffer, but should be considered a basic human right for everyone.

We have the right to life, liberty and happiness; we should have the right to die when we want.

One of many institutions condemning the Dutch decision is the Vatican. The Vatican says the decision "violated human dignity" and "offended European civilization."

Personally, I find letting someone die slowly and painfully of a chronic disease a violation of human dignity. Ending suffering for the sick and dying should be a priority.

The Vatican also believes that anyone who commits suicide automatically goes to hell.

I thank the Vatican, the Pope and all the cardinals for caring, but I happen to think I have the right to go to hell if I want to.

In America our civilization is based on freedom and free will; we are individuals that have the right to live and die how we please.

So what's stopping us? Just a few conflicts over words.

Dr. Iserson, an emergency surgeon at University Medical Center, does not condone active euthanasia. But he believes that ethics committees should continue discussing physician-assisted suicide, which is the practice of giving patients the ability to commit suicide by themselves.

He believes that active euthanasia - when a doctor administers the drugs - is homicide, and as we all know homicide is illegal.

OK, according to Webster's Dictionary, homicide is, "any killing of one human being by another."

But what if patients need help, what if they need medical supervision, what if they don't have the ability to put needles in their arms? Why can't they have a doctor assist them, why can't it be called assisted suicide, instead of homicide?

Many people believe that patients ask for euthanasia irrationally during extreme pain, and obfuscated reason. However, the law passed in the Netherlands is written so that a patient is well-informed of his or her decision, and all other options have been thoroughly considered. A doctor must first be convinced that the patient's request was voluntary, convinced that the suffering is unbearable, have informed the patient of the situation, have reached the conclusion that there is no reasonable alternative, have consulted another physician, and have carried out the procedure in a medically appropriate fashion. Then and only then can a patient be assisted in suicide.

Besides a vague law in Oregon that has allowed doctor-assisted suicide for the terminally ill since 1996, euthanasia is illegal in the United States and is only practiced underground. The debate in the United States is centered around the figure of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who is now serving a 10- to 25-year sentence after helping dozens of individuals who desired assistance in ending their suffering.

He was convicted of the second-degree murder of Thomas Youk - a man who suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease. The disease took away his ability to move and breathe. He lost all control over his life except his last decision to end his life. He chose to end his life with dignity.

Now conservative Americans call Kevorkian Dr. Death. They cheer for his incarceration and curse him to hell, simply because he helped people die.

I cheer Kevorkian as a hero and a saint. He has the bravery to stand up against a society who fears his courage to look death in the face.

The Netherlands is a role model of freedom and dignity. Their decision to legalize euthanasia is courageous and intelligent. We cannot let religious dogma, conservative hesitation and misleading wording get in the way of giving those with chronic illnesses the right to end their lives.

Do not take away your neighbor's right to death because you fear your own.