Assisted suicide, along with euthanasia, serves the purpose of ending the life of an individual. Distinguishing these two methods is important. During euthanasia, a lethal drug is administrated by a physician, whereas during assisted suicide, the patient is responsible for taking it. Both ways of dying are voluntary and are aimed to stop the suffering. In some countries and American states, assisted suicide was legalized, yet the very concept of it raises significant disputes. Despite the numerous ethical and legal issues, assisted suicide offers a humanitarian way out of suffering for patients and families.
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Arguments in Support of Assisted Suicide
First of all, the right to an assisted suicide is supported by its advocates because it meets the person’s claim for autonomy. Being an autonomous person means to be capable of making independent decisions and actions (Johannesen, 2016). Such an individual has a right to terminate his or her life by any means, including medical assistance. Most scholars state that there are certain criteria, according to which the permission for assisted death should be given by the doctors. They agree that in case a person is “suffering to such an extent that he or she wishes to die with physician assistance, that person should be given the means to do so” (Johannesen, 2016, p. 16). The supporters argue that every person is entitled to decide on a “nature and timing” of his or her own death.
Another argument to support assisted suicide is connected with the primary objective of medicine, which is to heal and ease the suffering. In cases when the disease is incurable, and there is no hope to stop the pain, the assisted suicide is seen as a humane method. A person that is determined in his or her decision to die might commit suicide with or without medical help. Brauera, Bolligerb, and Struba (2015) state in their research that assisted suicide are especially justified considering its difference to the violent suicide options (p. 2).
Brauera et al. (2015) interviewed the physicians of several medical institutions regarding their opinions on euthanasia and assisted suicide. More than half of healthcare workers stated that they would support the option of assisted death as a last resort, considering the patient is suffering from the terminal illness and death is inevitable (Brauera et al., 2015, p. 5). The patients who lost their independence and require the constant help of medical workers and family members were also supported by the physicians.
Tomasini (2014) defines the concept of rational suicide as the “instrumentally rational, autonomous, due to stable goals and not due to mental illness” (p. 99). There is always a reason behind the desire to die. An individual with a healthy state of mind would never commit suicide for the sake of committing suicide. Tomasini claims that suicide is considered rational or intelligible when it is based on physical or psychological suffering. A competent decision to choose the assisted suicide implies a sound view on the existing situation and realization of prospects.
Legalization of the assisted suicide would also be beneficial for medical workers engaged in such activities following the request of a patient. Thus, the conscious act of killing another person for that person’s own good and according to his or her wish, would not be criminalized. That is why the assisted suicide is considered more preferable than euthanasia since it limits the participation of a doctor in the process. In this case, the patient has a control of taking the lethal drug in his or her own time and manner. At the same time, such control gives an individual to change his or her mind in a very last moment.
Disputes Regarding the Assisted Suicide
There is no doubt that such a delicate topic as a voluntary termination of life raised a lot of debates. The opponents of both euthanasia and the assisted suicide express their concerns regarding medical, ethical and religious aspects of such procedures (Tomasini, 2014). The fundamental disapproval of assisted suicide comes from religious interpretation stating the sacred nature of life. According to Christian ideology, it is up to God to give life and to take it. Thus, suicide is viewed as a horrible sin for both patient and the doctor who approved it. In modern days religion does not play such a significant role as it used to, but its main postulates still influence the mindset of many people. Even non-religious individuals often believe that the voluntary death is unnatural and prefer the idea of non-intervention. However, the desire for an assisted suicide does not necessarily presuppose the person’s unawareness about the sanctity of life. The fact that humans, unlike animals, are aware of death, gives a reason to believe that the control over the death is also natural (Boudreau & Somerville, 2014).
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Another argument states that the murder of another human being contradicts the law and the Hippocratic oath. The primary goal of every healthcare worker is to heal and not to harm. Boudreau and Somerville (2014) emphasize that the right to die should be separated from the right to be killed (p. 4). They argue that in many cases it is impossible to define if the decision to die is competent. For example, if a person is mentally ill and experiences the state of severe distress or depression, he or she is not capable of developing a wise and rational decision. Therefore, the healthcare institution cannot take such responsibility.
The aim of medicine is, indeed, to do no harm. However, in cases of incurable deceases and unbearable physical pain, the harm is to sustain the life against the will of a patient. Secondly, the advocates assure that an assisted death cannot be a result of half-baked decisions. All physicians who support a person’s right to terminate life, state that such decision should be a product of long, rationalized thinking and the absence of any alternatives (Brauera et al., 2015). Prior giving the permission, the physician conducts a profound examination of medical and social conditions of a patient
Professor Boer (2014) has been an advocate of the assisted suicide for many years, yet he reconsidered his position and did not support the idea of its legalization. He claims that implementing such a law would mean that the assisted suicide is treated as a “normality” and not as a “last resort” (Boer, 2014, para. 10). He also mentioned that the legislation would put pressure on physicians that do not want to participate in assisting suicide due to their personal principles. Brauera et al. (2015) deny this statement, stating that Swiss doctors always have the right to reassign the duty of suicide assistance to another specialist, if they are not ready to do that. The same practice could be adopted in the United States.
Despite in controversial and delicate nature, the assisted suicide is an appropriate and humane method of ending the suffering of a person. The assistance in terminating life is implemented following certain criteria and is not applicable to all patients. The decision to choose the assisted suicide should be rationalized and be considered as a last resort. In case all the criteria are met, the medical help in terminating life is justified regarding ethical, philosophical and legal concerns.
Boer, T. (2014). Dutch ethicist: “Assisted suicide: Don’ t go there.” Web.
Boudreau, J. D., & Somerville, M. (2014). Euthanasia and assisted suicide: a physician’s and ethicist’s perspectives. Medicolegal and Bioethics, 4(1), 1-11.
Brauera, S., Bolligerb, C., & Struba, J. D. (2015). Swiss physicians’ attitudes to assisted suicide. Swiss Med Weekly, 145, 1-8.
Johannesen, J. (2016). Physician assisted suicide: slippery slopes and safeguards (Doctoral dissertation, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai).
Tomasini, F. (2014). Stoic defence of physician-assisted suicide. Acta Bioethica, 20(1), 99-108.