While the problem of euthanasia is an ancient one , it has, in recent years, acquired a new relevance and urgency and has increasingly been the subject of public debate, government inquiries, and legislative reform activity. The current prominence of the euthanasia issue can be attributed to a number of interrelated factors. One of the most significant has been the institutionalization of the process of dying. Developments in medical technology have significantly increased the capacity to sustain life beyond any possible hope of recovery. We are surrounded daily by the medical miracles that have improved the quality of millions of lives and saved millions more. Antibiotics, transplant technology, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and life support systems such as ventilators and kidney dialysis are just a few of the spectacular gifts of modern medicine. Patients who would in the past have died from natural causes can now be sustained almost indefinitely.
Modern medical technology clearly brings many benefits, but it has also created new legal and ethical problems in determining when to use medical interventions to attempt to save or prolong a patient's life, and when a patient should be permitted to die. One negative consequence of the tremendous advances in sustaining human life is that, in some instances, the dying process is unnecessarily prolonged. In fact, for many people, it is not death that they fear, but the possibility of dying in a painful and undignified manner. Thus, concern about the quality of life for the dying has prompted renewed interest in euthanasia.
Another factor which has contributed to the prominence of the euthanasia issue has been the growing proportion of elderly people in western society, as a result of the
general improvement in nutrition and health. Although the issue of euthanasia is not limited to the elderly, clearly those who are approaching the end of life are more likely t