Why Not Have Physician Assisted Suicide? Essay, Research Paper
May 3, 2000
Why Not Have Physician Assisted Suicide?
During the course of the past 20 years, many people are starting to here more and more situations about people participating in physician-assisted suicide. The fact of the matter is that people are starting to believe that they have the right to control their own life and death decisions. After you begin to think about physician-assisted suicide, and bring in all the facts, it becomes clear that it should be allowed in our society if it is used properly.
Many people question the pure definition of physician-assisted suicide. According to the University of Washington School of Medicine, “physician-assisted suicide refers to the physician providing the means for death, most often with a prescription, in which the patient administers the medication” (Ethics in Medicine). As of 1997 the State of Oregon was the only state that utilize legalized physician-assisted suicide. Some people argue whether this practice is ethical to use today in our society. One strong reason why this should be done is because it is a good choice for people who are suffering unbearably. At times many physicians believe that it is their duty to relieve these people of their problems.
One of the most famous arguments in favor of physician -assisted suicide is the story by Timothy Quill, and his patient “Diane”. Diane was a woman who was diagnosed with leukemia; from the beginning she refused the aggressive treatment. “She then requested a prescription of barbiturates that could be used to end her life if she determined that her suffering had become unbearable” (Annals of Internal Medicine). Diane was enrolled in a hospice program, many months passed but she began to feel a lot of pain, and fatigue. She used the barbiturates that her doctor gave her and ended her life. This was a very good case in favor of the practice because this woman was in serious pain, and the best solution was to end her life.
Another example of a physician-assisted suicide incident that attracted some attention on the issue occurred with a 37-year-old woman named “BB”. This woman had a “serious stroke and soon after she became quadriplegic and unable to speak” (Annals of Internal Medicine). She spent many days learning to communicate with others around her by using a special computer. “Finding her life quality of life intolerable, she repeatedly communicated a wish to die” (Annals of Internal Medicine). She underwent some psychiatric counseling, and they agreed that she had the ability to do her own decision-making. So the staff “took away all of her artificial nutrition and hydration, and only provided comfort and care until she passed away soon after” (Annals of Internal Medicine). BB, like Diane, was also a prime example of a patient that was in need of physician-assisted suicide; she could no longer go through life the way she was and all she wanted was to die. Many of these patients bring up some important arguments for their reasons in which they have the right to use physician-assisted suicide.
The University of Washington School of Medicine states that there are many arguments in favor of physician -assisted suicide or (PAS). The first of the four arguments in favor of PAS is the respect for autonomy of the patient. This means that the decisions about the circumstances for death are very personal. “They also state that a competent person should have the right to choose death”(Ethics in Medicine). The next argument for PAS is regarding to “justice.” “Justice requires that we treat like cases alike. Competent, terminally ill patients are allowed to hasten death by treatment refusal. For some patients, treatment refusal will not suffice to hasten death, and the only option is suicide. Justice requires that we should allow assisted death for these patients” (Ethics in Medicine). The third argument is the issue of compassion, according to the University of Washington School of Medicine. They explain that it is not always possible to relieve suffering, and PAS may be a compassionate response to that suffering of the Patients. The Individual liberty vs. state interest is one of the strongest arguments for PAS. A complete elimination of assisted death limits personal liberty of the individual. This is one of the main concerns about PAS, people believe that it is their body, and they should have the right to do what ever they feel is necessary.
These are common arguments that have been used by patients and physicians all over the country. People against the issue of PAS debate many of these arguments and have come up with their own scenarios on the issue. Some common arguments against the PAS are “when you take a human life, it is morally wrong because of a certain religion” (Ethics In Medicine). Another argument is that some medical doctors like to maintain their professional integrity and are opposed to taking human life. Herbert Hendin states in his article “Selling Death and Dignity”, that ” We should not buy into the view that those who are engulfed by fear of death or by suicidal despair that death is a preferred solution to the problems of illness, age, and depression”(Hendin 78).
These arguments that are stated against physician-assisted suicide don’t seem to be strong enough to turn my feelings away from the idea that it is justified. In response to Hendin’s statement, he has no idea of all the pain and suffering that is happening to people, and what they go through. Religion is also an argument that doesn’t make much sense to me. The right thing to do if a patient is suffering from a serious illness or basically living on a “plug”, is to give them the opportunity to die the way they want and not worry about whether it is morally right, according to a religion. Also the argument made on behalf of some doctors, “that it harms their professional integrity” is also false. These ill patients think of their doctors as relieving them from pain and suffering. “Death is not caused by the withdraw of treatment from the physician, but by the underlying disease”(Annals of Medicine). Therefore, these ill patients are going to die either way, so the doctors shouldn’t feel that it is unprofessional to end a patient’s life if it is requested. One reason why people don’t want to let the PAS practice legalized is because they cannot find a certain policy to use it under.
Physician-assisted suicide is debated upon regularly today and does not seem to be allowed in most states. One reason for this is because If it is legalized and it doesn’t have restrictions, there will be cases in which people will be going to the doctor to end their life for poor reasons. This form of PAS is unacceptable and that is why there should be a strict policy on the issue. If a patient goes to a doctor and asked for this procedure to be done, the physicians most look into the law on physician-assisted suicide. This policy should state that the practice can only be done if the patient has a serious illness, that is life threatening and undergoing massive amounts of pain, or lost some form of physical and mental abilities, from an illness such as a stroke. Another thing that would be included in this policy is that the patient requesting the practice must undergo some sort of psychiatric counseling to see whether he or she is in the right mind set for the procedure. This is important part of the policy, because PAS shouldn’t be performed if the patient is suffering only from some sort of depression. This policy will sort out the people who need the PAS and those who really don’t need it.
This type of policy on physician-assisted suicide should be acted on in our government. Far too many people suffer, lying in hospital beds, wishing for an answer to their problems. They have lived a long enough, suffered physically, and emotionally, as “Diane” did in Timothy E. Quill’s article “Death and Dignity: A Case of Individualized Decision Making.” “We have measures to help control pain and lesson suffering, to think that people do not suffer in the process of dying is an allusion”(Quill 70), so we should not let this suffering continue on for people, and give them the choice to end their lives if they feel that is what they want.
American College of Physicians, “Annals of Internal Medicine.”
Hendin, Herbert. “Selling Death and Dignity.”
Hastings Center Report, vol. 25 no.3 (May-June 1995).
Quill, Timothy. “Death and Dignity: A Case of Individualized Decision Making.”
The New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 324, no. 10 (March 7, 1991).
University of Washington School of Medicine. “Ethics in Medicine.”