Euthanasia: Navigating the Intersection of Compassion, Autonomy, and Ethics

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Euthanasia, derived from the Greek words “eu” meaning “good” and “thanatos” meaning “death,” refers to the intentional act of ending a person’s life to relieve suffering. This practice is often associated with terminal illness or severe physical or psychological pain that cannot be alleviated through medical treatment or palliative care. It can take various forms, including active euthanasia, where a person’s life is intentionally ended by administering lethal drugs, or passive euthanasia, where life-sustaining treatments are withheld or withdrawn.

The concept of it has a long history, dating back to ancient civilizations such as ancient Greece and Rome, where it was sometimes practiced avoiding prolonged suffering. However, it has also been met with moral, religious, and legal objections throughout history. In the modern era, debates around euthanasia gained prominence in the 20th century, with advances in medical technology raising questions about end-of-life decision-making and patient autonomy.

Euthanasia society

Understanding the ethical dimensions of it is crucial due to its profound implications for individuals, families, healthcare professionals, and society at large. Ethical considerations encompass principles such as respect for autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence, and justice. Debates surrounding euthanasia often involve complex ethical dilemmas, including questions about the sanctity of life, the relief of suffering, the role of medical professionals, and the potential for abuse or coercion.

  • Right to Die: Advocates of euthanasia argue that individuals have the right to make autonomous decisions about their own lives, including the choice to end their suffering through euthanasia. This perspective emphasizes patient autonomy and self-determination, particularly in the context of terminal illness or unbearable suffering.
Right to Die vs Sanctity of Life
  • Sanctity of Life: Opponents of euthanasia often uphold the sanctity of life as a fundamental ethical principle. From this viewpoint, all human life is inherently valuable and should be protected, regardless of the individual’s condition or circumstances. This perspective is rooted in religious and philosophical beliefs that regard life as sacred and inviolable.
  • Patient Care and Beneficence: Physicians have a primary duty to promote the well-being of their patients and alleviate suffering. In the context of it, healthcare professionals must navigate the tension between respecting patients’ autonomy and upholding the principle of beneficence. This involves providing compassionate care and exploring all available options for pain management and palliative care.
  • Do No Harm and Non-Maleficence: The principle of non-maleficence prohibits causing harm to patients and emphasizes the ethical imperative to avoid inflicting unnecessary suffering. Physicians must carefully consider the potential risks and consequences of it, including the possibility of unintended harm or abuse, before engaging in end-of-life decision-making.
  • Moral Distress and Professional Integrity: It poses ethical challenges for healthcare providers, including moral distress and conflicts of conscience. Physicians may face dilemmas between honoring patients’ requests for it and adhering to their own moral beliefs and professional obligations. It is essential to support healthcare professionals in navigating these difficult decisions while upholding their professional integrity and ethical responsibilities.
  • Resource Allocation and Justice: It raises concerns about the allocation of limited healthcare resources and the equitable distribution of medical services. Critics argue that legalizing it may divert resources away from efforts to improve palliative care and support services for patients with terminal illnesses. Moreover, disparities in access to euthanasia services could exacerbate existing inequalities in healthcare access and quality.
  • Safeguards and Regulatory Frameworks: To mitigate potential harms and abuses, jurisdictions that have legalized euthanasia often implement strict regulatory frameworks and safeguards. These may include requirements for informed consent, assessment by multiple healthcare professionals, and oversight by regulatory bodies. However, ensuring the effectiveness and adequacy of these safeguards remains a critical challenge in the implementation of euthanasia laws.
  • Societal Attitudes and Cultural Shifts: The legalization of it can have broader societal implications, influencing attitudes towards death, dying, and end-of-life care. Some argue that euthanasia fosters a culture of death and devalues the sanctity of life, while others contend that it empowers individuals to have greater control over their end-of-life choices. These societal attitudes and cultural shifts shape public discourse and policy debates surrounding it, highlighting the need for ongoing dialogue and reflection on its ethical implications.

Compassion is a fundamental aspect of caregiving, especially in the context of end-of-life care. It involves understanding and empathizing with the suffering of others and taking action to alleviate that suffering. In palliative care, compassion is central to providing comfort, support, and dignity to patients as they approach the end of their lives. Healthcare professionals strive to relieve physical pain, manage symptoms, address emotional distress, and promote overall well-being, guided by a compassionate ethos that honors the inherent dignity and worth of every individual.


Proponents of euthanasia argue that it can be an expression of compassion towards individuals experiencing unbearable suffering and distress. In cases where patients are terminally ill or facing incurable conditions, it may be seen as a merciful option to end their suffering and provide them with a dignified death. Advocates emphasize the importance of respecting patients’ autonomy and honoring their wishes to avoid prolonged suffering and loss of dignity. From this perspective, euthanasia is framed as an act of compassion that offers relief and comfort to those in distress.

Despite the perception of euthanasia as an act of compassion, it is also subject to critique and controversy. Opponents of euthanasia raise several concerns and counterarguments regarding its compassionate nature:

  • Sanctity of Life: Critics argue that euthanasia conflicts with the principle of the sanctity of life, which holds that human life is inherently valuable and should be preserved and protected. They contend that deliberately ending a life, even to alleviate suffering, undermines the intrinsic dignity and worth of the individual.
  • Slippery Slope: Some critics express concerns about the potential for abuse and misuse of it, particularly in vulnerable populations such as the elderly, disabled, or mentally ill. They warn that legalizing it could lead to a “slippery slope,” where the criteria for eligibility expand over time, and it is increasingly used as a means of cost-saving or convenience.
  • Palliative Care Alternatives: Opponents of euthanasia argue that the focus should be on improving access to high-quality palliative care and pain management rather than legalizing it. They advocate for comprehensive palliative care services that address the physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs of patients, providing holistic support and comfort at the end of life.

Autonomy, in the realm of medical ethics, refers to the fundamental right of individuals to make informed decisions about their own health and medical care. It encompasses the freedom to exercise self-determination, based on one’s own values, preferences, and goals. In the context of end-of-life decision-making, autonomy is particularly significant as patients grapple with complex choices about their treatment options, including whether to pursue aggressive medical interventions, palliative care, or euthanasia.

Individual autonomy plays a crucial role in end-of-life choices, empowering patients to assert control over their own bodies and lives, even in the face of terminal illness or suffering. Recognizing and respecting patients’ autonomy is essential for upholding their dignity, integrity, and personal agency. It allows individuals to articulate their values, express their wishes, and participate actively in decisions about their care, ensuring that medical interventions align with their goals and preferences.

  • Capacity: One of the primary challenges to autonomy in the context of it is ensuring that patients possess the capacity to make informed decisions about their end-of-life care. Capacity refers to the ability of individuals to understand relevant information, appreciate the implications of their choices, and communicate their decisions rationally. Assessing capacity can be complex, particularly in cases where patients are experiencing cognitive decline, mental illness, or other impairments that may affect their decision-making abilities.
  • Coercion: Concerns about coercion and undue influence pose significant limitations to autonomy in it. Patients may feel pressure from family members, caregivers, or healthcare providers to request euthanasia, either due to perceived burdensomeness, financial constraints, or other external factors. Safeguarding against coercion requires vigilant assessment of patients’ decision-making processes, ensuring that requests for euthanasia are voluntary, informed, and free from coercion or manipulation.
  • Societal and Cultural Factors: Cultural norms, societal attitudes, and systemic inequalities can also influence patients’ autonomy in end-of-life decision-making, including their willingness or ability to consider euthanasia as an option. Factors such as stigma, lack of access to quality healthcare, or disparities in education and resources may impact individuals’ autonomy and shape their perspectives on euthanasia.

Utilitarianism is a consequentialist ethical theory that emphasizes maximizing overall happiness or minimizing suffering as the basis for moral decision-making. In the context of euthanasia debates, utilitarian perspectives often focus on the consequences of actions, weighing the benefits and harms to determine the morally right course of action. Proponents of euthanasia from a utilitarian standpoint argue that it can minimize suffering by ending the pain and distress of terminally ill patients, thereby promoting the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Critics, however, raise concerns about the potential for euthanasia to undermine trust in healthcare, erode the sanctity of life, and create slippery slopes towards abuses or exploitation.

Deontological ethics, associated with philosophers like Immanuel Kant, emphasizes the inherent value of moral principles or duties, regardless of their consequences. From a deontological perspective, actions are judged based on their adherence to moral rules or principles, rather than their outcomes. In the context of euthanasia, deontological approaches often emphasize the inviolable duty to respect the sanctity of life and uphold human dignity. Opponents of euthanasia argue that deliberately ending a life, even to relieve suffering, violates fundamental moral prohibitions against killing and undermines the intrinsic worth of every individual. However, proponents of euthanasia may invoke principles such as autonomy and compassion to justify end-of-life choices that align with patients’ wishes and values.

Virtue ethics focuses on the character and moral virtues of individuals, emphasizing the cultivation of virtues such as compassion, honesty, and integrity. In the context of euthanasia debates, virtue ethics encourages reflection on the motives, intentions, and virtues of both patients and healthcare providers involved in end-of-life decision-making. Advocates of euthanasia from a virtue ethics perspective may argue that acts of compassion and mercy towards suffering individuals exemplify virtuous character traits such as empathy and benevolence. However, critics may question whether euthanasia promotes genuine virtues or whether it risks compromising moral integrity and desensitizing individuals to the value of life.

Cultural and religious perspectives play a significant role in shaping attitudes towards euthanasia, reflecting diverse beliefs, values, and traditions around death and dying. Different cultures and religions have varying views on the moral permissibility of euthanasia, influenced by theological doctrines, ethical teachings, and cultural practices.

For example, some religious traditions may emphasize the sanctity of life and oppose euthanasia on moral grounds, while others may prioritize compassion and quality of life in end-of-life care. Cultural and religious perspectives contribute to the richness and complexity of euthanasia debates, highlighting the importance of respecting diverse viewpoints and engaging in intercultural dialogue to navigate ethical dilemmas surrounding end-of-life decision-making.

The legal status of euthanasia varies significantly across different countries and jurisdictions, reflecting diverse cultural, ethical, and religious perspectives on end-of-life care. Some countries have legalized euthanasia or assisted suicide under specific conditions, while others prohibit or heavily regulate these practices.

The legal frameworks governing euthanasia typically outline eligibility criteria, procedural requirements, and safeguards to ensure the protection of vulnerable individuals and the ethical conduct of healthcare professionals. Examples of key legal considerations may include requirements for informed consent, consultation with multiple healthcare providers, reporting and review procedures, and penalties for non-compliance with legal standards.

Several countries and regions around the world have enacted legislation to legalize euthanasia or assisted suicide in some form. For example:

Euthanasia legal countries
  • The Netherlands: The Netherlands was the first country to legalize euthanasia in 2002, under strict conditions, including the presence of unbearable suffering, informed consent from the patient, and consultation with at least two independent physicians. Euthanasia is governed by the Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act.
  • Belgium: Belgium legalized euthanasia in 2002, following the Netherlands, with similar criteria for eligibility, including the presence of unbearable physical or psychological suffering and informed consent from the patient. Additionally, the legislation permits, under some circumstances, the killing of juveniles.
  • Canada: Canada legalized medical assistance in dying (MAID) in 2016, allowing eligible patients to request euthanasia or assisted suicide under specific conditions, including being a competent adult, experiencing intolerable suffering, and making a voluntary and informed request.
  • Oregon, USA: Oregon became the first U.S. state to legalize assisted suicide in 1997 through the Death with Dignity Act, which permits terminally ill patients with a prognosis of six months or less to request lethal medication for self-administration.

In a significant development, the Supreme Court of India has instituted reforms to streamline the regulations surrounding passive euthanasia, aiming to simplify the process and reduce procedural hurdles. The court’s recent modifications eliminate the requirement for a judicial magistrate’s attestation or countersignature on a living will, opting instead for validation by a notary or a gazetted officer.

active and passive Euthanasia

Furthermore, the jurisdiction over the living will document has been shifted from district courts to the National Health Digital Record, enhancing accessibility for healthcare institutions nationwide. This digitization facilitates swift access to crucial medical directives by hospitals and doctors across the country.

In cases where a hospital’s medical board denies consent for the withdrawal of medical treatment, the patient’s family members are granted recourse to the relevant high court. Here, a new panel of medical experts is convened to aid the court in arriving at a final decision.

This landmark ruling builds upon the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision to legalize passive euthanasia, emphasizing the significance of a “living will.” Under this ruling, mentally sound adults possess the right to refuse medical treatment or opt for a natural death, provided certain conditions are met.

The judgment also provides guidelines for terminally ill patients to draft a “living will,” empowering individuals to make informed decisions about end-of-life care. Crucially, the court underscores the importance of dignity in the dying process, affirming that preserving dignity is inherent to the right to life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

Despite legalization in some jurisdictions, euthanasia remains a highly contentious and ethically complex issue, with numerous controversies and challenges:

  • Safeguards and Oversight: Ensuring effective implementation of euthanasia laws requires robust safeguards, oversight mechanisms, and reporting requirements to prevent abuse, coercion, and errors. Challenges may arise in verifying patients’ eligibility, assessing capacity, and documenting decision-making processes accurately.
  • Access and Equity: Disparities in access to euthanasia services and end-of-life care remain a concern, particularly for marginalized or vulnerable populations who may face barriers to healthcare access or discrimination. Ensuring equitable access to euthanasia while safeguarding against inequalities and systemic biases poses significant challenges for policymakers and healthcare providers.
  • Professional and Ethical Dilemmas: Healthcare professionals may face ethical dilemmas and moral distress when navigating euthanasia requests, particularly if they have conscientious objections or conflicting duties. Balancing patients’ autonomy with professional integrity and ethical obligations requires careful consideration of individual values, clinical responsibilities, and legal requirements.
  • Societal Attitudes and Cultural Shifts: Legalizing euthanasia can provoke debates and cultural shifts in societal attitudes towards death, dying, and end-of-life care. Controversies may arise over the moral permissibility of euthanasia, the role of healthcare providers, and the impact on social norms and values.

The legal landscape and policy considerations surrounding euthanasia are complex and multifaceted, reflecting diverse perspectives, values, and priorities. While some jurisdictions have legalized euthanasia under specific conditions, controversies and challenges persist in implementing and regulating these practices in a manner that respects individual autonomy, safeguards against harm, and promotes ethical end-of-life care. Ongoing dialogue, research, and ethical reflection are essential for addressing these complexities and advancing responsible policymaking in the field of euthanasia.

  • Palliative Care: Palliative care is a specialized form of medical care aimed at improving the quality of life for patients facing serious illness, focusing on pain management, symptom relief, psychosocial support, and spiritual care. Palliative care teams work collaboratively with patients, families, and other healthcare providers to address physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, with the goal of enhancing comfort and dignity throughout the end-of-life journey. Unlike euthanasia, which involves intentionally ending a patient’s life, palliative care seeks to alleviate suffering and enhance well-being without hastening death. It emphasizes holistic care and supports patients in making informed decisions about their treatment options, including decisions about life-sustaining treatments and end-of-life care preferences.
  • Euthanasia: Euthanasia, on the other hand, involves deliberately ending a patient’s life to relieve suffering, usually in cases of terminal illness or unbearable pain. While euthanasia may be perceived as a means of providing a compassionate end to suffering, it raises ethical questions about the sanctity of life, patient autonomy, and the potential for abuse or coercion. Unlike palliative care, which focuses on maximizing comfort and quality of life, euthanasia entails a deliberate act of ending life, which may have far-reaching implications for patients, families, and healthcare providers.
  • Pain Management: Access to effective pain management is a fundamental component of quality end-of-life care, regardless of whether a patient chooses euthanasia or palliative care. Adequate pain control requires a multidisciplinary approach, including pharmacological interventions, physical therapy, psychological support, and complementary therapies. However, barriers to accessing pain management services may exist, including inadequate training among healthcare providers, regulatory restrictions on opioid prescribing, and disparities in healthcare access.
  • Hospice Services: Hospice care provides comprehensive support for patients with advanced illness and their families, focusing on comfort, dignity, and quality of life. Hospice teams offer medical care, pain management, emotional support, and practical assistance to patients in the final stages of life, often in the comfort of their own homes or in specialized hospice facilities. Hospice emphasizes a holistic approach to end-of-life care, prioritizing the needs and preferences of patients and families while respecting their cultural, spiritual, and ethical beliefs.
  • Withholding Treatment: Ethical considerations surrounding the withholding of treatment involve decisions to refrain from initiating or continuing medical interventions that are unlikely to provide meaningful benefit to the patient, such as life-sustaining treatments or aggressive interventions. The principle of beneficence, which emphasizes the obligation to promote the well-being of patients, must be balanced with respect for patient autonomy and dignity. Healthcare providers should engage in open and honest communication with patients and families, ensuring that decisions about withholding treatment are informed, voluntary, and consistent with the patient’s goals and values.
  • Withdrawing Treatment: Withdrawing treatment involves discontinuing or removing interventions that are no longer medically indicated or are causing undue suffering, such as mechanical ventilation, artificial nutrition and hydration, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Ethical considerations for withdrawing treatment mirror those for withholding treatment, requiring careful assessment of the patient’s condition, prognosis, and preferences, as well as consultation with the patient, family members, and other members of the healthcare team. End-of-life decisions should prioritize the comfort, dignity, and well-being of the patient, guided by ethical principles of respect for autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence, and justice.
  • Professional Insights: Healthcare professionals, including physicians, nurses, social workers, and ethicists, play a central role in end-of-life care and decision-making, including euthanasia requests. Their perspectives offer valuable insights into the ethical, emotional, and practical considerations involved in navigating euthanasia requests. Healthcare professionals may share their experiences with assessing patient eligibility, facilitating informed decision-making, and providing compassionate care to patients and families facing end-of-life choices.
  • Ethical Challenges: Healthcare professionals may encounter ethical dilemmas and moral complexities when confronted with euthanasia requests, particularly if they have personal or professional objections to the practice. Balancing respect for patient autonomy with concerns about harm, coercion, and the sanctity of life requires careful discernment and ethical reflection. By sharing their perspectives, healthcare professionals contribute to ongoing dialogue and debate about the role of euthanasia in end-of-life care and the ethical responsibilities of healthcare providers.
  • Moral Reflections: Those involved in end-of-life care, including healthcare professionals, patients, families, and caregivers, may grapple with ethical dilemmas and moral questions surrounding euthanasia. These dilemmas may arise from conflicting values, cultural beliefs, religious convictions, or personal experiences, highlighting the complexity of end-of-life decision-making. Moral reflections shared by individuals involved in end-of-life care provide opportunities for ethical dialogue, critical thinking, and mutual understanding.
  • Compassionate Responses: Ethical dilemmas in end-of-life care require compassionate responses that honor the dignity, autonomy, and well-being of all individuals involved. By listening to diverse perspectives, engaging in empathetic communication, and seeking collaborative solutions, those involved in end-of-life care can navigate ethical challenges with integrity and compassion. Ethical reflections and moral deliberations foster a culture of ethical awareness, sensitivity, and accountability in end-of-life care, promoting compassionate and person-centered approaches to decision-making.
  • Public Opinion: Polls and surveys provide valuable insights into the attitudes, beliefs, and preferences of the general public regarding euthanasia. These surveys may gauge public support or opposition to euthanasia, explore factors influencing individuals’ views, and assess attitudes towards specific legal and ethical aspects of euthanasia.
  • Varied Perspectives: Polls and surveys on euthanasia reveal a spectrum of opinions and perspectives within society, reflecting diverse cultural, religious, and ethical values. While some surveys may indicate widespread support for euthanasia under certain conditions, others may highlight significant opposition or ambivalence. Understanding the nuances of public opinion can inform policy debates, shape public discourse, and guide efforts to address concerns and promote informed decision-making.
  • Societal Controversies: Euthanasia remains a deeply divisive and controversial issue within society, sparking debates over moral, ethical, legal, and religious considerations. These debates may center on questions of autonomy, dignity, suffering, and the sanctity of life, highlighting conflicting values and priorities within society.
  • Political Considerations: Euthanasia debates often intersect with political agendas and legislative initiatives, with policymakers grappling with the complexities of balancing individual rights, public interests, and ethical responsibilities. Political debates may involve discussions of proposed euthanasia legislation, regulatory frameworks, and policy reforms, reflecting competing interests and ideologies.
  • Healthcare Communities: Euthanasia debates also occur within healthcare communities, where professionals, ethicists, and policymakers engage in critical dialogue about the ethical, legal, and practical implications of end-of-life care. Healthcare professionals may hold diverse perspectives on euthanasia, influenced by their professional training, personal beliefs, and clinical experiences. Ethical dilemmas, professional responsibilities, and moral obligations shape discussions within healthcare settings, prompting reflection, debate, and collaboration among stakeholders.
  • Education and Awareness: Promoting education and awareness about euthanasia can foster informed dialogue and understanding among the public, healthcare professionals, policymakers, and community stakeholders. Providing accurate information, resources, and opportunities for dialogue can empower individuals to engage in constructive conversations about euthanasia, grounded in knowledge, empathy, and respect.
  • Ethical Deliberation: Encouraging ethical deliberation and critical reflection on euthanasia can facilitate meaningful dialogue and engagement with diverse perspectives. Creating forums for ethical discussion, debate, and deliberation allows individuals to explore complex ethical questions, confront ethical dilemmas, and consider the ethical implications of euthanasia from multiple viewpoints.
  • Empathy and Compassion: Fostering empathy and compassion is essential for promoting respectful discourse and understanding in euthanasia debates. Recognizing the inherent dignity and worth of every individual, regardless of their views on euthanasia, cultivates a culture of empathy, compassion, and mutual respect. Empathetic listening, open-mindedness, and empathy can bridge divides, build trust, and foster collaborative efforts to address end-of-life care needs with sensitivity and compassion.

In our examination of euthanasia, we’ve explored its intricate facets, encompassing ethical, legal, medical, and societal realms. From defining euthanasia to scrutinizing its historical roots and ethical frameworks, we’ve revealed the complexities inherent in end-of-life decision-making. Key themes include the interplay of compassion, autonomy, and ethics in euthanasia debates, the significance of supportive care alternatives like palliative care, and the diverse voices shaping public discourse. Building upon this nuanced understanding, a call to advocacy emerges.

Advocates for end-of-life care must champion initiatives prioritizing patient-centered approaches, advocating for policies that expand access to palliative care, pain management, and hospice services. Moreover, fostering constructive dialogue on euthanasia is essential. Looking ahead, future research should delve into longitudinal studies on the impact of euthanasia laws, explore the experiences of marginalized populations, conduct ethical analyses of emerging technologies, compare legal frameworks across jurisdictions, and investigate the influence of cultural beliefs on end-of-life preferences. Such endeavors will deepen our comprehension and inform evidence-based practices and policies in this complex domain.

  1. Is euthanasia the same as assisted suicide?

    Euthanasia involves the intentional ending of a patient’s life by another person, typically a healthcare provider, to relieve suffering. Assisted suicide, on the other hand, involves providing a patient with the means to end their own life, such as prescribing lethal medication, which the patient self-administers. While both practices involve intentionally hastening death, they differ in terms of who performs the final act.

  2. What are the arguments for and against euthanasia?

    Arguments for euthanasia often center on principles of compassion, autonomy, and relief of suffering, emphasizing the right of individuals to make decisions about their own lives and end their suffering in a dignified manner. Arguments against euthanasia include concerns about the sanctity of life, potential for abuse or coercion, and the importance of safeguarding vulnerable individuals from harm.

  3. How does euthanasia impact the family members of the patient?

    Euthanasia can have profound emotional, psychological, and social impacts on family members of the patient, who may experience grief, guilt, and moral distress. Family members may grapple with complex emotions and ethical dilemmas surrounding end-of-life decision-making, including questions about autonomy, quality of life, and the moral permissibility of euthanasia.

  4. What legal safeguards are in place for medical professionals who take part in assisted suicide?

    Legal protections for healthcare providers who participate in euthanasia vary depending on jurisdictional laws and regulatory frameworks. In jurisdictions where euthanasia is legalized, healthcare providers may be required to follow specific procedural requirements, obtain informed consent from patients, and adhere to professional standards of care. Legal protections may include immunity from prosecution or liability when euthanasia is performed in accordance with legal standards and ethical guidelines.

  5. How can individuals make their end-of-life wishes known in advance?

    Individuals can make their end-of-life wishes known in advance through advance care planning, which involves documenting their preferences for medical treatment and end-of-life care in advance directives, living wills, or healthcare proxy forms. With the help of these documents, people can express their preferences for palliative care, end-of-life interventions, and life-sustaining therapies. This guarantees that their desires will be honored even in the event that they lose the ability to speak or make decisions for themselves.

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