The profession of medicine stands as one of the most sensitive fields of profession in the world. This is because; there are many moral and ethical issues that are involved in its practicing, and they need to be safeguarded in the society. One of the most contentious medical practices is euthanasia/physician-assisted suicide. This is because it invokes the issue of morality in the society which is significantly sensitive. Physician assisted suicide has been subjected to many definitions. However, one stands out as it seeks to define it as the act of bringing about death of an individual who has almost zero chances of healing from a terminal illness. Physician assisted suicide is closely related to euthanasia. Euthanasia’s main goal is also to end life of an individual who is hopelessly ill, or has little to no chance of recovery (Snyder, 2006). However, the two can be defined individually, although they have the same goal. In the first scenario of physician assisted suicide, the physician mainly offers the information and the necessary means of performing the act. Performing the act is left to the patient in question.  In euthanasia, the physician takes part in performing the act. Euthanasia is also defined as the act of bringing death to an individual who is hopelessly ill through quick and painless means, for mercy reasons (Forrest, 1978).

The issue of euthanasia has a very long history in the practice of medicine. In fact, professionals’ analyses as well as historical records show that the issue is traceable back to the beginning of medicine (Harris, 2005). This is because human beings have been subjects to suffering from the beginning of times. In fact, research shows that in the past, sometimes an extremely ill patient could even be subjected to euthanasia on the request of a close relative (This could have been from a father or a mother to a daughter, son, or even between brother and sister).

In one of the most recent researches conducted in the US, results show that as high as 57% of physicians in the field of medicine today have at one time received a physician-assisted suicide request in their careers. This is worrying since there are no records of how many of these physicians have agreed to participate in the act, or how many have declined it. However, recently there is hope and there are not as many cases of mercy killings as there were in the past. This is accredited to the fact that there are many alternatives of addressing medical issues other than just physician-assisted suicides. For instance, professionals in the present field of medicine are more knowledgeable than the ones who practiced medicine in the early times. This means that there are many skills of relieving suffering nowadays than there were in the past.

There is also the fact that many specialists in the field of medicine today believe that suffering of most patients can be reduced through affordable and readily available health care. This is through access to supportive care, optimal symptom control and careful assessment of illnesses among other health care practices (Yount, 2002).  These scenarios in many ways eliminate or reduce the desire for physician assisted suicides. There is also the fact that even when suffering may seem to get out of hand for some patients, and their desire for physician-assisted suicide persists, there are other avenues. This is other than euthanasia and physician-assisted suicides, serving as remedies for relieving suffering. This is while at the same time avoiding prolonging a patient’s life without his/her will.

Currently, there is a legal and ethical debate on the issue of physician-assisted suicide because it affects the morals as well as the integrity of our society. The first legal issue in this matter touches on the legalization of active and specific steps of intentionally ending someone’s life. There is a heated debate in the matter as many people feel that in as much as there may be situations where euthanasia and physician-assisted suffering may be necessary, coming up with guidelines  on how to achieve the same would be degrading human life (Singer, 1995). There is also an argument that if such steps were provided for in a country’s constitution, it would be undermining one of the most important human rights in the world; right to life.

Additionally, some of the specialists feel that if there were guidelines on how, where and when to perform the act, physicians would be playing a significant role in committing suicides. Some of these patients may not even be necessarily terminally ill. Therefore, this topic evidentially has a heated legal controversy surrounding it, more so since there are no set rules of governing it. A physician is also not compellable by any guidelines even in his/her profession to perform the act (Harris, 2005). There is also another booming controversy brought about by the fact that this debate seems to come up attracting intense reaction periodically. It is not an issue that is debated about by the society on a daily basis. This may be either because even individuals who are against it believe it is necessary, or they simply fail to take it seriously.

Another factor precipitating the legal and ethical debate in this matter is the fact that physicians’ sometimes override their patients’ wishes. This is because of the misunderstanding brought about by ethical and legal issues in this matter. In fact, this misunderstanding is believed to have led to an increased support of the physician assisted suicides other than euthanasia. However, both euthanasia and physician-assisted suicides do occur on almost equal proportionalities, and medical practitioners should premeditate their reaction to such requests. The ongoing debate in physician-assisted suicide has brought about two principles which all medical professionals seem to agree with;

  1. That all physicians have an ethical obligation, if not a mandatory duty of ending an individual’s suffering. This is while promoting the dignity of any patients dying under their care at the same time (Harris, 2005).


  1. There is also the principle of medicine which requires all physicians to respect their patient’s decisions which are of competent nature, especially when they involve life-sustaining treatment.



The first principle is very contentious because of the fact that even some of the most renowned philosophers felt that at times a medical practitioner is compelled to commit euthanasia. A good example is James Rachels who expressed his views on this matter in his infamous “Active and Passive Euthanasia” journal. Rachels based his argument on the “double effect principle”. He felt that if mankind kept garnering support for passive euthanasia, active euthanasia should also be allowed because it would seem more humane. He further stated that there is no moral difference in “killing” and “letting die”. These ideas were more broadened in his infamous article; “The End of Life” (1986), which sought to investigate the moral controversies that surround euthanasia.

Other than James Rachels, there is also Peter Singer, an Australian philosopher who is a Bioethics Professor at Princeton University. Singer is believed to be of the most learned philosophers in the world today, who believes in Euthanasia. In fact, in his book “Rethinking Life and Death: The Collapse of Our Traditional Ethics”, he has classified Euthanasia into categories of non-voluntary, involuntary and voluntary. He also believes that the notion of sanctity of mankind life should be discarded. He argues that this notion is irrelevant, unscientific and outdated and unreliable in comprehending challenges on contemporary bioethics. To top that up, he has also faced situations in his life that has put his believes and stand on euthanasia to test. For instance, his mother suffered the Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. He publicly did an interview saying that if only he did not share the responsibility of looking after his mother with a sister, he would have already opted to go for euthanasia; either as involuntary or non-voluntary.

From the above controversy, experts have tried to identify what are believed to be advantages, and disadvantages of physician assisted suicides. One of the most emphasized advantages of physician-assisted suicide is the argument that it gives an individual a chance to choose how he/she would want to die (Yount, 2002). This factor is among other significant arguments that led to the legalization of the “Oregon Death with Dignity Act”. This is because many people consider dying a human right. Under the “Oregon Death with Dignity Act”, physicians are allowed to assist patients who are terminally ill to bring their lives to an end. This is mostly through legal prescriptions in form of painless lethal injections as medication substitutes. However, there is a counter-argument which has been highlighted as a disadvantage for this point. This point argues that there are no fundamental liberties in any state in the world (even in the American constitution), which recognizes right to assistance when one wants to take his/her own life (Medina, 2005)

The other advantage that has been highlighted is that a terminally ill patient gets to end his/her own suffering, and also spares families’ and relatives’ the pain of watching him/her deteriorate in a death bed (Snyder, 2005). This point mainly emphasizes on hospital bills and insurances where one terminally ill individual may remain admitted in a health facility for long periods knowing very well that sooner or later he/she would die, but continues to use insurance funding or other form of money. This leaves other family members without any capital. However, there is a counter-argument for this point with many people arguing that if people were allowed to commit physician-assisted suicide, the field of medicine may never come to develop treatment methods for these terminal illnesses. This is because scientists would never get to supervise or study diseases’ patterns, or even their possible cures.

The above two points are the main ideas which are viewed as the cons for physician-assisted suicide. However, there are more disadvantages for the same and I believe that is why the discussion is seasonal, and has never been given serious consideration. Another main con of the above act is that human life is sacred, and that is how it should be perceived regardless of the situation. Therefore, when one assists to end life, it becomes morally unacceptable. Another con is the fact that if the act is legalized, it could serve as a slippery slope to murder. People might see no difference between the act and murder, killing innocent people when they think they cannot recover when they could if well taken care of (Medina, 2005).

Additionally, some people could also claim to have a right to physician assisted suicides even when they are under manageable conditions such as depression. In fact, a research done in the state of Oregon after legalization of the physician assisted suicide showed that 1 person in every 6 Oregon residents who sought for physician assisted suicides suffered from depression. This is one the reasons which makes people criticize physician assisted suicide legalization in any society.

There has been case where some states who have gone ahead to push for the legalization of physician-assisted suicides. However, under numerous circumstances, law makers have felt no need to do the same as there are many ethical and moral issues involved. For example, the supreme court of the US passed a ruling in which it failed to recognize any constitutional right to physician –assisted suicides, in the year 1997. However, the Supreme Court ruled that states legislature may choose to recognize and legalize it, but it was not a United States constitutional requirement (Yount, 2002). In contrast to the physician-assisted suicides however, palliative care is recognized and acknowledged by all legal systems in the United States. This includes the same justices who had failed to recognize even by the supreme court of the United States.

Personally, I feel that the issue of physician-assisted suicides is significantly sensitive in the society. This includes the law makers, church leaders, physicians and even the relatives of the patient in question.  This is because it invokes a lot of moral, religious and ethical issues. However, I feel that in as much these are the facts, some cases like the ones involving multiple and terminal sclerosis should be understandable. This includes other illnesses which are untreatable or even manageable without torturing a patient. Therefore, I believe that the society should understanding when physician assisted suicides are performed, but only on very serious cases where the patience has almost no chances of surviving.


Forrest, B. C. (1978). A critical philosophical analysis of the moral distinction between active and passive euthanasia. Baton Rouge: s.n..

Harris, N. (2005). The ethics of euthanasia. San Diego: Thomson/Gale.

Medina, L. M. (2005). Euthanasia. Detroit: Greenhaven Press.

Singer, P. (1995). Rethinking life & death: The collapse of our traditional ethics. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Snyder, C. L. (2006). Euthanasia. Detroit: Greenhaven Press.

Yount, L. (2002). Euthanasia. San Diego, Calif: Greenhaven Press.