The Ethical Dilemma of Legalizing Physician-Assisted Suicide to Suffering/Terminally Ill Patients
This essay will explore the ethical dilemma surrounding the legalization of physician-assisted suicide for suffering or terminally ill patients. It will examine the arguments for and against legalization, including considerations of autonomy, quality of life, and moral and legal implications. The essay aims to provide a balanced analysis of this complex and sensitive issue, highlighting the ethical challenges faced by patients, healthcare professionals, and society. PapersOwl showcases more free essays that are examples of Assisted Suicide.
Imagine living in constant pain, where the day begins, and all one desires is to feel nothing for once. The agonizing ache the doctor cannot cure will never cease, and the patient yearns to be at peace. Physician-assisted suicide is the act of medical personnel giving a suffering or terminally ill patient a lethal dose of a drug for the patient to administer upon himself or herself. Physician-assisted suicide closely aligns with the term euthanasia, which refers to when medical personnel administers the drug to 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, “…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” (npr.org). This comes into play with the consideration of people’s beliefs and what they perceive as 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 the 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 can 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, a sentiment some of America agrees with.
In America, the first state to legalize physician-assisted suicide was Oregon. On 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% to 40%. Since then, seven hundred and fifty-two people have taken advantage of it in Oregon. In 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 the legislature passed. Physician-assisted 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 yet (Starks, “Physician Aid-in-Dying”). Regardless, we should be the judge of our own fates and not leave it to someone else.
How it works
In the words of Thomasma, “The first ethical question of PAS 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 and able to express their wishes for death. They also need to be aware of other options (such as continuing life-sustaining treatments), contact their next of kin, and sign a death certificate, among other things. (Starks, “Physician Aid-in-Dying”). Many rules govern physician-assisted suicide because no one would want to bear the responsibility for a wrongful, accidental death if the patient were not in their right state of mind at the time of request. Physician-assisted suicide can also be very tricky when dealing with a family who cannot afford to pay for the care of their loved one. It might seem like a selfish act or a bid to rid themselves of a burden, but logically, if one is unable to carry out basic daily tasks because they are terminally ill, physician-assisted suicide might seem ideal. However, this is not about eradicating those who are ill and suffering. It is only considered when there are multiple, well-documented requests from the patient, and in many cases, the patients opt not to follow through. Kliff notes that in Oregon, 752 patients received physician-assisted suicide, but originally 1,173 prescriptions were filled, which shows that many patients had a change of heart or the disease progressed faster than anticipated. Kliff calls this insuring oneself against the misery of an undignified 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 trained hands.
Dr. Kevorkian graduated in 1952 from the University of Michigan Medical School. He conducted medical experiments on death row prisoners, earning the nickname “Dr. Death”. His mission was to end his patients’ suffering. By 1994, Dr. Kevorkian had overseen 21 deaths, either through euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide. This led to him serving five jail sentences, during which he staged hunger strikes the first three times. He was eventually released on parole for good behavior. But Dr. Kevorkian was not a monster; he simply wanted to end his patients’ suffering and prevent them from living a life of despair and hopelessness.
“We all have the right to control our own lives. If someone faced a terminal illness and could foresee the misery it would bring, why wouldn’t they want to put a stop to it? For instance, if a veterinarian were to assess a dog hit by a car and facing imminent death, the first option would be euthanasia. As Stephen Hawking, PhD, aptly states, “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?”