In 2014, terminally ill patient Brittany Maynard ended her suffering by ingesting a lethal dose of drugs prescribed by a medical practitioner. This incident, however, was not considered illegal since this has been enacted as a law in the state where she resided in at the time of her death, Oregon. This is known as physician-assisted suicide or Death with Dignity Act.
The state of Oregon has legalized PAS in 1997 and since then, there have been numerous reported instances of people who ended their lives by taking prescribed drugs to commit suicide after they were allowed under the law to carry out the act. In the United States, there are five states which support this controversial Act, including Montana, Washington, Vermont, New Mexico and Oregon. In other parts of the world, there are also some countries which observe this practice one way or the other. In the UK, it is referred to as doctor-assisted suicide while in the Netherlands, it is considered legal but with certain regulations.
What is Physician-Assisted Suicide?
This legally gives a competent person the right to end his or her life with the help and guidance of a medical practitioner by way of prescribing lethal doses of drugs. The time or date of the commission of the act, however, is the sole discretion of the patient. It is not to be mistaken for euthanasia or what is commonly known as mercy killing wherein a physician will be the one to administer lethal medication.
Although five states are already legally allowing this practice, PAS has remained to be a contentious issue between proponents and opponents. While there are people who support this, there are medical doctors and private citizens who are against its legalization. Here is a look at some of the ethical and legal arguments presented by opposing groups.
List of Pros of Physician-Assisted Suicide
1. People have the right to die with dignity and in a humane way.
As with the case of Maynard who was told by her doctor that she only had six months to live and decided to relocate to Oregon so she can take advantage of the law allowing her to legally end her suffering with the aid of a physician, advocates point out that it is but ethical for a person to keep his or her dignity by putting a stop to the sufferings brought by terminal illness. They believe that sick people who will be dying soon because of medical conditions should not be subjected to prolonged pain and physician-assisted suicide is the ethical way to do it.
2. Patients have the right to the kind of treatment they want.
Included in the Bill of Rights of Patients is a person’s right to be treated for illness and refuse treatment, if this is the option they want. Supporters of PAS assert that people or patients should be allowed to end their lives as part of their right to autonomy. Moreover, supporters say that since the act relies on the decision of the patient who can either go through with it or decide otherwise, it is not an influenced option.
3. PAS takes away the guilt of a dying patient of being a burden to the family.
People who are pushing for the legalization of physician-assisted suicide say that there are terminally ill individuals who feel that they emotionally, physically and financially drain members of the family because of their being sick. For some of these people, the best way to remove the guilt they have, it would be best for all if all these hardships will be put to an end through PAS.
4. Some people just lose their will to live and should be supported on this matter.
One proponent of PAS, a philosopher, talked about patients who have been sick for years who regard themselves as useless or failures who may wish to die. For him, this is something that should be supported because it is an autonomous choice they have to make. He also disagreed about the theory of slippery slope and stated that there had been no reported increase in the number of PAS cases triggered by this theory.
List of Cons of Physician-Assisted Suicide
1. Terminally ill patients can be given palliative care.
Some of the opponents of PAS are medical practitioners themselves saying that patients considering taking their own lives this way still have the chance to be persuaded to decide on living and by making them comfortable and giving them palliative treatment, the views on PAS can change. A particular physician who is not in favor of PAS discussed about a patient who wanted to resort to PAS but decided against it after being persuaded and was able to survive cancer.
2. It is a violation of the Hippocratic Oath.
One of the issues brought about by critics is the Act going against the oath of physicians which include not giving deadly medication to an individual whether the latter asks for this nor can they suggest such to an ill person. Although certain modifications have been made to the original Hippocratic Oath, many people still believe this should be observed.
3. Doctors can make inaccurate prognoses.
Another point stressed by critics is the fact that medical practitioners can either make wrong diagnoses or not be accurate when it comes to a patient not living beyond the given six months. They contend that there are situations where patients recover unexpectedly and legalizing PAS is not the answer. Critics also think that legalization will somehow persuade people that it is morally correct to take one’s life.
4. Not all physicians see it as ethical and moral.
Medical professionals also have opposing views about PAS since there are also those who are legally required to assist people on dying yet they vehemently oppose PAS. For them, they support and acknowledge people who refuse to be treated but they are against being part of helping somehow to die. Doctors against PAS say that ethics is not only a matter of consequence or giving in to a person’s desire to end life. It is the recognition that another person, regardless if he or she is dying from terminal illness, is still a valuable human being.
The controversy on physician-assisted suicide being legally accepted will go on for years despite its being accepted in some states and some parts of the world. Both supporters and critics have expressed logical views. However, an ethical and legal issue like PAS can be complicated and further discussions should be tackled for better understanding. Moreover, there are different aspects to be taken into consideration. Perhaps, the question on whether it should be legalized or not on a national scale will not be answered any time soon.