Physician Assisted Suicide: the Growing Issue of Dying with Dignity and Euthanasia

Is someone wanting to die with dignity more important than the conscience of a doctor who provides care for others? The issue of physician-assisted death can be summed up by simply saying it has a snowball effect. What starts as physician-assisted death turns into euthanizing and from there it could end up in the killing of patients without their full comprehension as to what they agreed to. The solution to this issue is accepting there is a problem and figuring out where to draw a hard line between euthanizing and physician-assisted death.

Physician-assisted death is only an intellectual idea, and the idea of someone dying with perfect dignity only has a place in a Utopia. According to Starks, Dudzinski, White, Braddock, Tonelli, (2013), physician-assisted death is defined as the practice of a physician providing a terminally ill patient who is fully competent with a legal prescription drug which the patient takes in a lethal dose to end the patient’s life (Tonelli, Braddock, Starks, Dudzinski, &White, 2013). State legislation passed by California, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Vermont, and the District of Columbia states the requirements for someone who wants to take their own life.

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According to the National Center for Death with Dignity (2017), the patient making the request must be a resident of the states of California, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Vermont, or the District of Columbia, and he or she must be eighteen years of age and fully mentally competent. Lastly, one must be diagnosed with a terminal illness, with two physicians’ agreement it will result in the patient’s life ending within six months. The doctor cannot give the lethal dose directly to the patient, due to issues with the Hippocratic Oath, which states that the physician can do no harm to a patient (2017). Before physician assisted death was legal, a doctor instead would work with the patient through the stages of dying and do things like control pain. Physician-assisted death laws have had a hard legal road in the states where they have been passed. The states where legislation has been introduced will also have a hard time passing this legislation.

In 1997, Oregon legalized physician-assisted suicide, this took place after the bill was initially passed in 1994 by legislation but disputed by opponents of the bill. Finally, it was put to a public vote in 1997 where it won handily, by close to 60% in favor of the bill. Similar laws were passed in other states and legislation has been introduced to more states (Tonelli et al., 2013).

Before the legislation was introduced, medical doctor Jack Kevorkian claimed to have helped more than one hundred people in dying. Kevorkian had several different murder charges dropped, and on November 1998, he and Thomas Youk, who had been diagnosed with ALS, appeared on 60 minutes and did a live euthanizing. The doctor injected him with the same three drugs that are used in lethal injection. Later convicted of second degree murder, Kevorkian served eight years in prison before being freed in 2008 (Tonelli et al., 2013) If Kevorkian were a Nazi Germany doctor, he would have been hung after the Nuremberg trials.

During World War II, Nazi Germany doctors euthanized disabled people. The same doctors that euthanized disabled patients were sentenced to death by hanging following the Nuremberg trials. Assisting a patient in death is a slippery slope for a physician, starting with good intentions. Legislation needs to become stricter on who is able to ask for aid in dying.

Sulmasy, Travaline, Mitchell, and Ely (2016), published an article that stated in Netherlands as early as the 1980s, the government no longer persecuted physicians, who helped patients kill themselves. As of the early 1990s, they found that fifty percent of those euthanized were no longer voluntary. Netherlands officially legalized euthanasia in 2001. Now, in the Netherlands, euthanasia is legal for all ages and has been since 2004 (Sulmasy, Travaline, Mitchell, and Ely, 2016).

Netherlands began the same way the US started by just allowing physicians to aid in the dying of terminally ill patients. Now, they can fully euthanize children because they are mentally disabled. The government there made this possible by passing the Euthanasia Act. The country has already fallen down the slippery slope that is physician assisted death. If the US continues down this road it will end up euthanizing children because they are disabled or are mentally unfit.

The US needs to turn back from making physicians a provider of death and focus on bringing them back to medicine. The government must set a hard line of requirements and look to take the issue no further. The US needs to stop this snowball effect before it goes too far like it has already in Netherlands. It is the only way the humanity can return for this road.

References

Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia. (2015). Retrieved January 24, 2018, from http://www.cbc-network.org/issues/taking-life/assisted-suicide-and-euthanasia/

How to Access and Use Death with Dignity Laws. (2017). Retrieved February 06, 2018, from https://www.deathwithdignity.org/learn/access/#Eligibility

Sulmasy, D. P., Travaline, J. M., Mitchell, L. A., & Ely, E. W. (2016). Non-faith-based arguments against physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. The Linacre Quarterly, 83(3), 246“257. http://doi.org/10.1080/00243639.2016.1201375

Tonelli, M. R., Braddock, C. H., Starks, H., Dudzinski, D., & White, N., (2013). Physician Aid-in-Dying. Retrieved January 24, 2018, from https://depts.washington.edu/bioethx/topics/pad.html

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