Physician Assisted Suicide: Ethical Issues

Introduction

If you were terminally ill, and knew one was only to get worse, would one not rather have a quick, easy and painless death in a manner and at a time of one’s own choice for which one could be fully prepared than a few more weeks, months or years of being alive, but suffering and getting worse every day, only to die in the end. It’s not like one is going to have a ‘better’ death if one waits. Deciding the occasion and place of a person’s death is nature’s decision, it has already been decided. In most major religions of the world, people believe that God should decide the time and place of one’s death and nobody else should ever interfere with one’s death. If we were never to interfere with nature then there would be no need to have doctors and hospitals. If we, in United States keep the law on physician-assisted suicide how it is at the moment, when physician-assisted suicide is illegal in all cases, will not dying people just go to other countries to be killed? Then won’t Britain look like the bad one for not granting its people’s wish? Other countries would be giving Britain’s people what they want when they do not have a choice in this country. This is already happening on a small scale with UK patients going to clinics in the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Main text

Most people would agree that physician-assisted suicide is acceptable in animals, which cannot express an opinion; surely it should also be acceptable in humans, who often can express their opinions. If an animal is suffering and cannot make its wishes known, it is up to the owner to make a life or death decision so sure if a person is suffering, and cannot make their wishes known, then it should be up to the family to decide, they should not just be left to suffer. Think about abortion, which happens when it is in the babies’ best interests for it to die and the mother makes the decision and this is considered ok, so surely if it is in a person’s best interest to die, then their family could make that decision.

Lee (2003) in the journal Physician-Assisted Suicide: A Conservative Critique of Intervention describes that If a person is depressed and wants to die, it seems a lot easier for the doctor to encourage this to make the patient feel better and to save his time and the hospital’s money and resources, rather than fight for this patient to change their mind. A good doctor should never encourage death; doctors are there to fight for people and to help people, not to kill them off because it seems the easier option.

Current surveys tell that 56% of doctors in Great Britain favor physician-assisted suicide in extreme cases. This is a difficult and unfair question to ask doctors because what exactly is ‘extreme’? Extreme could mean when someone has cancer, is not in pain, and will never get better to one person, but to another person it could mean something completely different. If one finds out one’s doctor has been practicing physician-assisted suicide, would that not make one feel a little uneasy about going to him? If one knew he did kill someone, would one not think of him as some kind of murderer?

Manetta (2001) in the journal Ethical Issues in the Social Worker’s Role in Physician-Assisted Suicide that if a person is terminally ill, and is in need of intensive nursing or medical care over a prolonged period and physician-assisted suicide is the patient chosen option, then there could be a considerable saving of health care resources if physician-assisted suicide is allowed. This may sound harsh, but it is logical, there is no point in spending money on a dying patient if one knows that he or she will never recover and may not even want treatment if physician-assisted suicide was possible, it would be far better to spend that money on a patient who can be cured and maybe waiting for treatment. This is an ethical dilemma for the medical professionals who take an oath in which they promise to preserve life. Not all doctors and nurses would be prepared to help a patient to end their life because of their own beliefs, religious or otherwise.

Summary

Someone who is terminally ill might want to die when they are still relatively healthy and able to plan their own farewells and may not want to wait until they have deteriorated maybe to the point where they cannot make their last wishes known. People want to have their funeral planned by them, not planned by some doctor or even their family; they want their funeral to be just as they want because it is the last thing they will ever have to plan. It is also a way of relieving their family of this duty. If a person is suffering from a terminal illness; they are not the only ones who are suffering. Their family and friends may also have the burden of caring for them over a long period of time. The patient may not want their loved ones to have to watch them deteriorate. Also, if a family is caring for a terminally ill person, when that person finally does die, the family might blame themselves. It is sensible that they can all reach a decision together about physician-assisted suicide so that no individual has to be blamed. No matter how one looks at it, physician-assisted suicide is killing. One may think that kill is too strong a word but the word “kill” means “to cause the death of” and that is exactly what physician-assisted suicide is.

References

Lee, D. E. (2003). Physician-Assisted Suicide: A Conservative Critique of Intervention. The Hastings Center Report, 33(1), 17+.

Manetta, A. A., & Wells, J. G. (2001). Ethical Issues in the Social Worker’s Role in Physician-Assisted Suicide. Health and Social Work, 26(3), 160.