The Legalization of Physician Assisted Suicide or Euthanasia
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The Legalization of Physician-Assisted Suicide or Euthanasia: Healthcare is a significant aspect of our day-to-day lives and raises numerous concerns. The topic I’ve decided to discuss regarding healthcare is the controversial issue of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. Physician-assisted suicide is described as a doctor’s facilitation in the death of a patient, usually at the patient’s request. Physician-assisted suicide is often compared to two similar issues–active and passive euthanasia, which both provide the patient with more control over their deaths.
The difference between active and passive euthanasia is recognized as an act versus omission, or the cessation of standard care as opposed to intensive care. Passive euthanasia involves a deliberate effort by a doctor or legal surrogate to withhold life-saving treatment on behalf of the patient (CM, 1986). Active euthanasia occurs when the doctor physically carries out the euthanization process, typically by administering a lethal intravenous fluid.
Comprehending the difference and how these concepts are interconnected have been ethically and morally challenged during policy-making and legislation regarding passive euthanasia. Currently, active euthanasia methods are illegal in the U.S. However, four states, including California, Oregon, Washington, and Vermont, legally accept passive euthanasia, where patients are given medication to consume, leading to their death. On October 27th, 1997, Oregon passed the Death with Dignity Act, which states that terminally ill patients can end their lives through physician-prescribed medications. This act legalized physician-assisted suicide but explicitly prohibits euthanasia, where someone else administers the drug. For a person to qualify for this lethal medication, they must be above the age of 18, a resident of Oregon, capable of making informed medical decisions, and diagnosed with a terminal illness with no more than six months to live.
Furthermore, the patient must make at least two verbal requests to their physician, separated by a minimum of fifteen days. By implementing stringent and enforceable guidelines for the process through which a patient could end their life using life-ending drugs, the Death with Dignity Act aims to provide ultimate patient autonomy. However, this has led to a “slippery slope,” where individuals residing in states where physician-assisted suicide is illegal are moving to states like Oregon to undergo life-ending treatment. A prime example is Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman from San Francisco, California.
After being married for only one year, the ecstatic and young Brittany was informed that she had developed an aggressive brain tumor and was given only six months to live. Analyzing all available alternatives, Brittany felt that undergoing all of the cancer treatment options would not necessarily improve her prognosis and would only cause her to live out her days in suffering as her family watched. She then learned about Oregon’s Death with Dignity law and moved to Oregon, where she later passed away in her home, surrounded by loved ones. Brittany Maynard’s case of physician-assisted suicide has been used as a precedent by advocates for the legalization of euthanasia. However, many opponents of the idea believe that limitations placed on legalized euthanasia would eventually erode (Sulmasy, 2016). A pertinent example of euthanasia pertains to people with mental and cognitive disorders, including dementia and schizophrenia. Currently, in Belgium, such procedures are being carried out for patients dealing with depression. In 2002, Belgium sanctioned euthanasia for patients managing untreatable or painful medical conditions, including mental illnesses, which might be terminal.
As of 2015, 124 people out of the 3,950 euthanasia cases in Belgium involved patients with mental disorders. In addition, almost 21% of the total euthanasia patients were suffering from non-terminal illnesses, in which physicians actively administered life-ending medications (Lane & Lane, 2016). Moreover, a significant number of these patients were young, still in their thirties. The legalization of euthanasia across the United States could be beneficial to those who face a significantly reduced quality of life due to a terminal illness or intolerable pain-causing condition. However, unless strictly regulated and defined, such a policy could potentially lead to abuse of these life-ending treatments (Jaret, 2016). Furthermore, moral and ethical considerations need to be acknowledged to ensure that the autonomy of such patients is respected without diminishing the rights of the physicians or health professionals responsible for administering the procedure, due to religious or cultural beliefs.
Lane, C., & Lane, C. (2016). Europe’s morality crisis: Euthanizing the mentally ill. Washington Post. Retrieved 13 October 2018, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/europes-morality-crisis-euthanizing-the-mentally-ill/2016/10/19/c75faaca-961c-11e6-bc79-af1cd3d2984b_story.html?utm_term=.17e17c3a81cc
Sulmasy, D. (2016). Non-faith-based arguments against physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Retrieved 13 October 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5102187/
Maynard, B. (2014). My right to death with dignity at 29. CNN. Retrieved 12 October 2018, from http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/07/opinion/maynard-assisted-suicide-cancer-dignity/index.html
CM, G. (1986). Distinguishing between active and passive euthanasia. – PubMed – NCBI. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Retrieved 14 October 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3082503
Jaret, P. (2016). Is Physician-Assisted Suicide Ethical?. berkeleywellness. Retrieved 10 October 2018, from http://www.berkeleywellness.com/healthy-community/health-care-policy/article/physician-assisted-suicide-ethical