The Ethical Dilemma of Legalizing Physician-Assisted Suicide to Suffering/Terminally Ill Patients

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Updated: Nov 16, 2022
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Imagine living in constant pain, where the day begins and all that one desires is to feel nothing for once. The agonizing ache the doctor can not cure will never cease, and the patient yearns to be at peace. Physician-assisted suicide is the act of medical personnel giving a suffering/terminally ill patient a lethal dose of a drug for the patient to administer upon his/herself. Physician-assisted suicide is close to the term euthanasia, which is when medical personnel administers the drug onto the patient so that the patient can end their pain and suffering (Gale Encyclopedia of Senior Health 1713-16). In the NPR debate, Andrew Solomon states that “…in a society in which people tend to be in denial about the reality of mortality altogether, getting them to talk about this is still frequently a struggle”( This comes into play with the consideration of people’s beliefs’ and what they believe to be moral, like death. Is death moral? Is there a right to die? Death is one thing we all have in common, whether it be from natural causes or force of another human, even though natural causes are the ideal way to pass. Some believe that with the right to die comes dignity, that the patients are able to escape before the illness consumes them, it relieves the stress it may bring to them and their families, and it can provide valuable organs for transplants. I believe that a terminally ill patient reserves the right to die peacefully with medical assistance, and some of America agrees.

In America, the first state to legalize physician-assisted suicide was Oregon. November 16, 1997, the Oregon Death with Dignity Act was in full effect after it had been passed in 1994 with a margin of 51.3% to 48.7%, then the act was challenged and won again with a margin of 60% and 40%. Since then, seven hundred and fifty two people have taken advantage of it in Oregon. November 2008, the state of Washington passed The Washington State Death with Dignity Act with a margin of 57.8% to 42.2%. In May 2013, Vermont’s governor signed a bill in which legislature passed. Physicianassisted suicide has been moving toward legislation in other states such as; Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but none have validated this law just yet (Starks,”Physician Aid-inDying”). But, we should be the the judge of our own fates, nonetheless, not someone else.

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In the words of Thomasma, “The first ethical question of PAS1 has nothing to do with the physician, but with the patient.” In order to receive physician-assisted suicide, in Washington for example: they must be eighteen years of age, competent, terminally ill, be able to express their wishes for death, know of other options (such as not dying and more treatments), contact their next of kin,sign a death certificate, so on and so forth. (Starks,”Physician Aid-in-Dying”). There are many other rules for wanting to receive physician-assisted suicide because no one would want a wrongful, accidental death on their hands if the patient were not in their right state of mind upon request. Physician-assisted suicide can also be very tricky when it comes to the subject of a family who cannot afford to pay for the care of their loved one. It does seem as though it is an act of selfishness and that they may feel the patient is a burden, but logically, if one cannot carry out basic daily tasks because they are terminally ill, physician assisted suicide would seem ideal. Yet, this is not the eradication of those who are ill and suffering, it is all given upon multiple, written and verbal sound requests from the patient, and sometimes the patients do not follow through. According to Kliff, In Oregon, yes seven hundred and fifty two patients received physician-assisted suicide, but originally one thousand one hundred and seventy three prescriptions were filled, which means many of the patients either had change of heart or their illness beat the pills. Kliff calls this an insurance policy against a miserable death. (“California Has Legalized Physician-assisted Suicide. Here’s How the Law Works.”). Dr. Jack Kevorkian was one American physician who decided to take these matters into his own medically certified hands.

Dr. Kevorkian graduated in 1952 from the University of Michigan Medical School and carried out medical experiments on death row inmates gaining the nickname “Dr. Death”. He then only had one vision, to end the suffering of his patients. By 1994, Dr. Kevorkian was present for twenty one deaths, whether it be euthanasia or physicianassisted suicide. This ended up gaining him five jail sentences, in which he held hunger strikes the first three times. He was then released on parole for good behavior. Yet, Dr. Kevorkian was not a bad guy, he just wanted to end the suffering of patients so that they did not have to live a life of despair since they knew their end was near.

Being in control of one’s life is a right we all have. So, if someone found themself in the situation where this devastating plague would soon take over their life, why would they not want to stop it? For instance, a dog gets hit with a car and would soon face death, what would be the first option from the veterinarian? Stephen Hawking PhD. concurs, “I think those who have a terminal illness and are in great pain should have the right to choose to end their lives and those that help them should be free from prosecution. We don’t let animals suffer, so why humans?” 

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The Ethical Dilemma of Legalizing Physician-Assisted Suicide to Suffering/Terminally Ill Patients. (2022, Nov 16). Retrieved from