The right to assisted suicide is a significant topic that concerns people all over the United States. The debates go back and forth about whether a dying patient has the right to die with the assistance of a physician. Some are against it because of religious and moral reasons. Others are for it because of their compassion and respect for the dying. Physicians are also divided on the issue. They differ where they place the line that separates relief from dying--and killing. For many the main concern with assisted suicide lies with the competence of the terminally ill. Many terminally ill patients who are in the final stages of their lives have requested doctors to aid them in exercising active euthanasia. It is sad to realize that these people are in great agony and that to them the only hope of bringing that agony to a halt is through assisted suicide.When people see the word euthanasia, they see the meaning of the word in two different lights. Euthanasia for some carries a negative connotation; it is the same as murder. For others, however, euthanasia is the act of putting someone to death painlessly, or allowing a person suffering from an incurable and painful disease or condition to die by withholding extreme medical measures. But after studying both sides of the issue, a compassionate individual must conclude that competent terminal patients should be given the right to assisted suicide in order to end their suffering, reduce the damaging financial effects of hospital care on their families, and preserve the individual right of people to determine their own fate.
Medical technology today has achieved remarkable feats in prolonging the lives of human beings. Respirators can support a patient’s failing lungs and medicines can sustain that patient’s physiological processes. For those patients who have a realistic chance of surviving an illness or accident, medical technology is science’s greatest gift to mankind. For the terminally ill, however, it is just a means of prolonging suffering. Medicine is supposed to alleviate the suffering that a patient undergoes.Yet the only thing that medical technology does for a dying patient is give that patient more pain and agony day after day. Some terminal patients in the past have gone to their doctors and asked for a final medication that would take all the pain away— lethal drugs. For example, as Ronald Dworkin recounts, Lillian Boyes, an English woman who was suffering from a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis, begged her doctor to assist her to die because she could no longer stand the pain (184). Another example is Dr. Ali Khalili, Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s twentieth patient. According to Kevorkian’s attorney, “[Dr. Khalili] was a pain specialist; he could get any kind of pain medication, but he came to Dr. Kevorkian. There are times when pain medication does not suffice”(qtd. in Cotton 363). Terminally ill patients should have the right to assisted suicide because it is the best means for them to end the pain caused by an illness which no drug can cure. A competent terminal patient must have the option of assisted suicide because it is in the best interest of that person.
Further, a dying person’s physical suffering can be most unbearable to that person’s immediate family. Medical technology has failed to save a loved-one. But, successful or not, medicine has a high price attached to it. The cost is sometimes too much for the terminally ill’s family. A competent dying person has some knowledge of this, and with every day that he or she is kept alive, the hospital costs skyrocket. “The cost of maintaining [a dying person]. . . has been estimated as ranging from about two thousand to ten thousand dollars a month” (Dworkin 187). Human life is expensive, and in the hospital there are only a few affluent terminal patients who can afford to prolong what life is left in them. As for the not-so-affluent patients, the cost of their lives is left to their families. Of course, most families do not consider the cost while the terminally ill loved-one is still alive.When that loved-one passes away, however, the family has to struggle with a huge hospital bill and are often subject to financial ruin.Most terminal patients want their death to be a peaceful one and with as much consolation as possible. Ronald Dworkin, author of Life’s Dominion, says that “many people . . . want to save their relatives the expense of keeping them pointlessly alive . . .”(193). To leave the family in financial ruin is by no means a form of consolation. Those terminally ill patients who have accepted their imminent death cannot prevent their families from plunging into financial debt because they do not have the option of halting the medical bills from piling up. If terminal patients have the option of assisted suicide, they can ease their families’ financial burdens as well as their suffering.
Finally, many terminal patients want the right to assisted suicide because it is a means to endure their end without the unnecessary suffering and cost. Most, also, believe that the right to assisted suicide is an inherent right which does not have to be given to the individual. It is a liberty which cannot be denied because those who are dying might want to use this liberty as a way to pursue their happiness. Dr. Kevorkian’s attorney, Geoffrey N. Fieger, voices the absurdity of curbing the right to assisted suicide, saying that “a law which does not make anybody do anything, that gives people the right to decide, and prevents the state from prosecuting you for exercising your freedom not to suffer, violates somebody else’s constitutional rights is insane” (qtd. in Cotton 364). Terminally ill patients should be allowed to die with dignity. Choosing the right to assisted suicide would be a final exercise of autonomy for the dying. They will not be seen as people who are waiting to die but as human beings making one final active choice in their lives. As Dworkin puts it, “whatever view we take about [euthanasia], we want the right to decide for ourselves . . .”(239).
On the other side of the issue, however, people who are against assisted suicide do not believe that the terminally ill have the right to end their suffering. They hold that it is against the Hippocratic Oath for doctors to participate in active euthanasia. Perhaps most of those who hold this argument do not know that, for example, in Canada only a “few medical schools use the Hippocratic Oath” because it is inconsistent with its premises (Barnard 28). The oath makes the physician promise to relieve pain and not to administer deadly medicine.This oath cannot be applied to cancer patients. For treatment, cancer patients are given chemotherapy, a form of radioactive medicine that is poisonous to the body. As a result of chemotherapy, the body suffers incredible pain, hair loss, vomiting, and other extremely unpleasant side effects. Thus, chemotherapy can be considered “deadly medicine” because of its effects on the human body, and this inconsistency is the reason why the Hippocratic Oath cannot be used to deny the right to assisted suicide. Furthermore, to administer numerous drugs to a terminal patient and place him or her on medical equipment does not help anything except the disease itself. Respirators and high dosages of drugs cannot save the terminal patient from the victory of a disease or an illness. Dr. Christaan Barnard, author of Good Life/GoodDeath, quotes his colleague, Dr. Robert Twycross, who said, “To use such measures in the terminally ill, with no expectancy of a return to health, is generally inappropriate and is—therefore—bad medicine by definition” (22).
Still other people argue that if the right to assisted suicide is given, the doctor-patient relationship would encourage distrust. The antithesis of this claim is true. Cheryl Smith, in her article advocating active euthanasia (or assisted suicide), says that “patients who are able to discuss sensitive issues such as this are more likely to trust their physicians” (409). A terminal patient consenting to assisted suicide knows that a doctor’s job is to relieve pain, and giving consent to that doctor shows great trust. Other opponents of assisted suicide insist that there are potential abuses that can arise from legalizing assisted suicide.They claim that terminal patients might be forced to choose assisted suicide because of their financial situation.This view is to be respected. However, the choice of assisted suicide is in the patient’s best interest, and this interest can include the financial situation of a patient’s relatives. Competent terminal patients can easily see the sorrow and grief that their families undergo while they wait for death to take their dying loved ones away. The choice of assisted suicide would allow these terminally ill patients to end the sorrow and griefof their families as well as their own misery. The choice would also put a halt to the financial worries of these families. It is in the patient’s interest that the families that they leave will be subject to the smallest amount of grief and worry possible.This is not a mere “duty to die.” It is a caring way for the dying to say, “Yes, I am going to die. It is all right, please do not worry anymore.” Further, legalization of assisted suicide will also help to regulate the practice of it. “Legalization, with medical record documentation and reporting requirements, will enable authorities to regulate the practice and guard against abuses, while punishing real offenders”(Smith 409).
There are still some, however, who argue that the right to assisted suicide is not a right that can be given to anyone at all. This claim is countered by a judge by the name of Stephen Reinhardt. According to an article in the Houston Chronicle, Judge Reinhardt ruled on this issue by saying that “a competent, terminally-ill adult, having lived nearly the full measure of his life, has a strong liberty interest in choosing a dignified and humane death rather than being reduced at the end of his existence to a childlike state of helplessness, diapered, sedated, incompetent” ( qtd. in Beck 36). This ruling is the strongest defense for the right to assisted suicide. It is an inherent right. No man or woman should ever suffer because he or she is denied the right. The terminally ill also have rights like normal, healthy citizens do and they cannot be denied the right not to suffer.
The right to assisted suicide must be freely bestowed upon those who are terminally ill. This right would allow them to leave this earth with dignity, save their families from financial ruin, and relieve them of insufferable pain. To give competent, terminally-ill adults this necessary right is to give them the autonomy to close the book on a life well-lived.
Barnard, Christaan. Good Life/Good Death. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice, 1980.
Beck, Joan. “Answers to Right-to-Die Questions Hard.”Houston Chronicle 16 Mar. 1996, late ed.: 36.
Cotton, Paul. “Medicine’s Position Is Both Pivotal And Precarious In Assisted Suicide Debate." The
Journal of the American Association 1 Feb. 1995: 363-64.
Dworkin, Ronald. Life’s Dominion. New York: Knopf, 1993.
Smith, Cheryl. “Should Active Euthanasia Be Legalized: Yes.” American Bar Association Journal April 1993. Rpt. in CQ
Researcher 5.1 (1995): 409.
--Esther B. De La Torre
Should Physcian-Assisted Suicide be Legal
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Should Physician-Assisted Suicide be Legal?
Terminally ill patients should have the legal option of physician-assisted suicide. Terminally ill patients deserve the right to control their own death. Legalizing assisted suicide would relive families of the burdens of caring for a terminally ill relative. Doctors should not be prosecuted for assisting in the suicide of a terminally ill patient. We as a society must protect life, but we must also recognize the right to a humane death. When a person is near death, in unbearable pain, they have the right to ask a physician to assist in ending their lives.
40 percent of Americans say they would consider committing suicide if they were in severe pain, suffering from an incurable disease. 40 percent of Americans also say they would help a family member, in the same situation, kill them selves. But only 12 percent say they thought of killing them selves. In 1950, fewer than four in ten Americans supported physician-assisted suicide. Today seven in ten support it.
Some people think that people who are in mental anguish are going to be able to get a physician to assist in their suicide. This should not and will not happen, because they are not terminally ill and are able to be treated with therapy.
There are problems with the title “Terminally ill patient” but there is a way to fix it. We must change the definition for “A Terminally ill patient” to: having an expected life span under 3 months, there is absolutely no way of helping the patient and are doomed to die. But a patient has to suffering from severe pain and be terminally ill to be able to get a physician to assist in their suicide.
Although widely condoned around the world, only one nation, the Netherlands has made physician assisted suicide legal. Five states tried Washington in 1991, California in 1992, Michigan in 1998,and main in 2000, Oregon in 1994 approved the “Death with Dignity Act” it won 51 percent to 49 percent. 91 people committed suicide with the aid of a physician in the first four years the law was in effect.
The approach of physician-assisted suicide respects an individual’s need for personal dignity. It does not force the terminally ill patient to linger hopelessly, and helplessly, often at great cost to their psyche. It drive’s people mad knowing they are going to die in a short period of time, suffering while they wait in a hospital bed.
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Assisted Suicide Terminally Ill Legal Life Span Own Death Family Member Physician Assisted Suicide Physician-assisted Suicide
Assisted suicide makes them not have to suffer.
Six percent of doctors say they have written a prescription to hasten death for a terminally ill patient. Most of them do it illegally. Making such assistance legal would permit it to be government regulated. Having it regulated by the government would prevent abuse, and permit physicians to do what many are currently doing illegally.
One example was Dr. Jack Kevorkian who publicly acknowledged helping 130 people commit suicide. He was convicted of second-degree murder in 1999 and sentenced to 10 to 25 years for giving a lethal injection to one terminally ill man. He was enjoined by an Oakland judge from aiding in any suicides except the one he was convicted of.
There is no real difference between recognizing the legal right to medical assistance in dying, and the already accepted practice of removing life-sustaining treatment when a patient desires. The only difference is that the person who has his life-sustaining treatment removed suffers (Terry Schiavo a woman who had her feeding tube removed slowly starved to death over a two-week period), and physician-assisted suicide is usually accomplished by administering a lethal injection a much more humane way of dieing.
We also can’t only look at the patient but the people affected by watching a person suffer. By allowing physician-assisted suicide the burden their families might face would be lifted.
The level of support goes up with the education the public has. Only half of Americans with a high school diploma support physician-assisted suicide, while the level of support gets higher with Americans who are college or post-college graduates. Other studies showed that Blacks and Hispanics are more likely than the general public to oppose assisted suicides.
Insurance companies should be required to provide health and life benefits to people who die with medical assistance. Although the insurance companies should be paid for the period of time the terminally ill person was expected to live. The reason the companies need to pay is that people may keep on living in great pain just so they don’t leave their families with nothing, which should not happen.
Life must be protected, but we must also permit people to have a humane death. Terminally ill patients should be allowed to determine when they die. They deserve the right not to suffer from great pain. Physician-assisted suicide needs to be legalized. We also must make it a socially accepted, and stigma free procedure for the patients who need it.