Physician Assisted Suicide
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 physician-assisted suicide as it invokes the issue of morality in the society. Physician assisted suicide has been subjected to many definitions, but the one which stands out terms 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, whose goal is also to end life of an individual who is hopelessly ill, with little to no chance of recovery. However, the two can be defined individually although they have the same goal. In the first case 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 participates actively 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.
The issue of physician assisted suicide has a very long and old history in the practice of medicine. In fact, professional analysis as well as historical records in this field shows that the issue of mercy killing can be traced back to the beginning of medicine. This is because human beings have also 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 be from a father or a mother to a daughter, son, or even brother and sister.
In one of the most recent researches conducted, results show that as high as 57% of all the physicians in the field of medicine in the United States of America, have at one time received a physician-assisted suicide request in their career. This is worrying because there are no records of how many of these physicians have agreed to participate in the act, and how many have declined it. However, nowadays 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 time. 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 access to supportive care, optimal symptom control and careful assessment of illnesses. 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 the 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. 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, which is right to life.
Additionally, some of the specialists feel that if there were guidelines on how, when to perform the act, physicians could be playing a part in committing suicide out of an individual’s requests; some of who 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. 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 know how to react to these kinds of requests. The ongoing debate in physician-assisted suicide has brought about two principles which all medical professionals seem to agree with;
- 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.
- 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.
From the controversy surrounding physician assisted killing, experts have come 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 and individual a chance to choose how he/she would want to die. 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 as 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
The other advantage that has been highlighted is that a terminally ill patient gets to ends his/her own suffering, and also spares families and relatives the pain of watching him/her deteriorate in a death bed. This point mainly emphasizes on hospital bills and insurances where one terminally ill individual may stay 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 leaving 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 many never even come to develop treatment methods for these terminal illnesses. This is because scientists would never get to supervise or study a disease’ patterns, or even its possible cure.
The above two pros are the main ideas which are viewed as the pros 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 the fact that 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.
There is also the fact that 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 instance, in the United States of America, the supreme court of the land 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. 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.