December 18, 2008
Physician Assisted Suicide
Physician Assisted suicide is a major controversial issue that is based on the arguments of ethics, legalities, and
morals (“End-of-Life”). According to the University of Washington
Medical School, “Physician assisted suicide generally refers to a practice in which the physician provides a patient
with a lethal dose of medication, upon the patient’s request, which the patient intends to use to end his or her own
life” (Braddock). Dr. Jack Kevorkian is a very well known doctor who gained
worldwide attention by being sentenced to 60 years in prison for assisting several of his patients commit suicide. “Recent
laws in Oregon and the U.K. have started a trend of legalizing assisted suicide, but others, most notably the U.S. Attorney
General’s office, are determined to prevent these laws from going through” (Messerli).
Many doctors believe that helping a patient die is a humane way of ending someone’s suffering. When someone is
diagnosed with a terminal disease which will ultimately take their life, doctors may find that helping them die will save
the patient and their families from the emotional anguish of watching them suffer. According to the American Psychological
Association, “When the burdens of life outweigh the benefits because of uncontrollable pain, severe psychological suffering,
loss of dignity, or loss of quality of life as judged by the patient, and when circumstances are not remediable, the dying
person should be able to ask for and receive help in assisted suicide” (“End-of-Life”). This way a patient can die with dignity, rather than have their families’ last memories of them be
a shell of the person they once were (Messerli). This also gives the families a chance to say their last goodbyes and not
have to watch their family member suffer until the very end. Also, if a person has made the choice to die, they will probably
do so with or without assistance. Studies show that about 25 percent of all suicides happen because the person is suffering
from some sort of medical condition (American, “Effective”). “Without physician assistance, people may commit
suicide in a messy, horrifying, traumatic way” (Messerli).
Then there is also the argument that a person should simply have the right to choose their own fate. “Nowhere
in the constitution does it state or imply that the government has the right to keep a person from committing suicide”
(Messerli). Since a person has the right to make their own decisions about the course of their own lives whenever they can,
they should also have the right to determine the course of their own dying as well (“End-of-Life”). By banning
assisted suicide, you are basically telling a person what they can or cannot do to their own body. “In a country that’s
supposedly free, this should be a fundamental right” (Messerli).
There is also the issue of savable patients. By knowing exactly when a patient will die, it will be much easier to salvage
organs that can save a patient who is not terminally ill (Messerli). However,
when a terminal patient dies from a disease running its full course, many times this destroys these vital organs (Messerli).
There will also be more time spared up for the doctors and nurses to care for patients who can be saved. Studies have been
performed and have confirmed that understaffed hospitals make more mistakes and provide less quality of care (Messerli). With
fewer patients, these doctors can focus more of their time on helping and curing patients who are not terminal.
Money is also a key factor in healthcare. It is hard to ignore the fact that assisted suicide is becoming largely about
money (Smith). In the last decade, we have all seen healthcare and insurance premiums skyrocket (Messerli). There is a huge
cost to keep a terminally ill patient alive. When you consider the cost of x-rays, lab tests, drugs, hospital stays, and staff
salaries, it can easily cost anywhere from $50,000-$100,000 to keep a patient alive (Messerli). Also, many patients would
rather leave their assets and estates to their families. When paying this much for healthcare, many times there is not much
money left to leave to their loved ones.
There are also those who are strongly against physician assisted suicide. When a physician receives their medical degree,
they are required to take a Hippocratic Oath, which first and foremost states, “Do no harm” (Messerli). Many people
say that helping a patient take their own life violates this oath. Instead of them doing everything in their power to save
a patient, they instead “give up” and help them die. This also plays a part in the doctor-patient relationship
(Messerli). According to the American Medical Association, “Physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible
with the physician’s role as healer and that it poses serious societal risks, such as ill persons’ feeling abandoned
or losing trust in the health care system if providers participate in this practice” (“End-of-Life”). A
patient may feel that the doctor is not doing everything they can to help them. This oath was created so that patients would
be assured that doctors are not here to hurt, but instead to help them.
Then there is the religious aspect of it. “Many religions prohibit suicide and the intentional killing of others”
(Messerli). This not only affects the patients who want to commit suicide, but also infringes on the doctors who must take
their lives. This may require a doctor who does not believe in killing to “prescribe a treatment [death] that they don’t
believe in” (Newman).
There is also the question of giving up on patients too