KATHERINE K. YOUNG
THE EXTREME debilitation of advanced old age and severe illness have plagued human beings whose awareness and self-definition encompass both the idea of death and the "marker events" 1 that signal the dying process. How human beings have dealt with such awareness and experience has varied from epoch to epoch, culture to culture, person to person. Heroically living out the natural life span despite suffering, suicide to eliminate the difficult dying process, and murder whether by compassionate or selfish motives have all been human responses to these phenomena.
The history of the concept of euthanasia is closely associated with human dilemmas involved in advanced old age and severe illness. In classical Greece, the term meant the good death (eu-, good and thanatos, death) 2 and referred primarily to the mode of dying, 3 an easy or painless death associated with drinking hemlock. 4 "In Graeco-Roman antiquity, there was a generally recognized 'freedom to leave' that permitted the sick and despondent to terminate their lives, sometimes with outside help" ( Gruman 1978, 261). Thus, the ancient view of euthanasia in the West was close to suicide, in that it was voluntary and self-imposed, although it may have been abetted, especially through provision of poison. Trowell, for example, thinks that some physicians in the Roman empire "did assist suicide, and even murder, by the issue of lethal drugs" and that the "Hippocratic oath and the oath of Asaph arose as protests against this practise" ( 1973, 8).