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Physician-Assisted Suicide: Barrett’s Case


Physician aided suicide and euthanasia are hotly debated topics in healthcare. It should be observed that euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide do not refer to the same thing. In physician-assisted suicide, “patients are empowered to ingest legal medications in physician-assisted suicide unlike in euthanasia whereby the drugs are administered by third parties to end life” (Golden & Zoanni, 2010, p. 17). The moral and ethical aspects of physician-assisted suicide are contentious issues in many parts of the world. This discussion uses a classic case to outline the major concerns associated with physician aided suicide in healthcare.

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Targeted Classic Case

Summary of the Case

In 2012, a classic event happened that transformed the manner in which many Californians interpreted the idea of physician-assisted suicide. The incident occurred when Elizabeth Jane Barrett was arrested and charged for assisting Jack Koency to commit suicide (Coker, 2013). According to the case, Barrett had assisted one of her friends to take his medications. This means that Barrett had no intentions of helping the patient, Jack Koency, commit suicide (Welborn, 2013). The “police arrested the woman and charged her for assisting the ex-war veteran commit suicide by taking a lethal dose” (Coker, 2013, para. 3). The police officers argued that the culprit had poisoned the patient’s yoghurt. The postmortem report showed conclusively that Koency had died from the effects of toxic drugs such as fluoxetine, Oxycodone, and alprazolam (Coker, 2013).

Legal and Ethical Issues

Although the above case did not take place in a healthcare setting, experts believe that it played a significant role towards redefining the ethical and legal issues associated with assisted suicide. For instance, the case showed conclusively that patients who were unable to lead normal lives could be assisted to die (Coker, 2013). The ethical concern was to ensure the individuals did not suffer in their lives. The case also presented the question of morality in assisted suicide. According to different specialists, individuals who do not want to live can be allowed to end their lives (Smith, Goy, Harvath, & Ganzini, 2011). This issue is appropriate for many patients suffering from different terminal diseases.

The case presented numerous legal concerns and debates. The defense lawyer representing Elizabeth Barrett indicated that his client was only trying to support a friend. The patient had already decided that he wanted to die without informing Barrett (Coker, 2013). That being the case, physicians and family members who help patients commit suicide through the use of lethal drugs should not be accused of murder.

The event also indicated that Jack Koency was a depressed ex-war hero (Welborn, 2013). According to the case, the targeted patient was lonely and unable to come into terms with the issues affecting him. This fact explains why he wanted to terminate his life. Since she was living alone, Koency requested Barrett to assist him in order to achieve his goals. These facts forced many legal experts and psychologists to examine the case from different perspectives.

How the Case Unfolded

In February 2013, the elderly woman from Laguna Woods was “sentenced to 3 years of probation after pleading guilty” (Welborn, 2013, para. 1). According to the presiding judge, Elizabeth Barrett assisted Jack Koency by giving him a toxic dose of Oxycontin. However, some analysts argued that the judgment was erroneous because the patient never wanted to live (Welborn, 2013). This was the case because Koency had made several funeral arrangements. Experts in assisted suicide indicated clearly that the Judge had analyzed every aspect of the crime. The case had also revolved around the wishes of different members of the family. It was also observed that Barrett did not have any criminal record (Coker, 2013). It is notable that the case did not unfold the way many people expected. The outstanding fact is that it presented numerous ideas and concerns that encouraged many policymakers in California to analyze the issue of assisted suicide.

How Such Issues are Perceived and Dealt with Today

The above case is believed to have catalyzed most of the ideas leading to the enactment of the End of Life Option Act in California. Consequently, the state’s governor signed the Act into law. The law allows many “terminally ill citizens in the state to end their lives with medical assistance” (Smith et al., 2011, p. 447). Many people have argued conclusively that the new law is an achievement because it gives patients the option to terminate their lives. The practice has the potential to help patients who want to overcome the sufferings associated with various terminal conditions. Individuals who want to end their lives are allowed to use various medications.

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The other agreeable fact is that many Californians have been opposed to the law. According to them, physician-assisted suicide is something unacceptable and unethical. They believe strongly that life should be respected by both physicians and patients because it is given by God (Golden & Zoanni, 2010). At the same time, many physicians have been empowered to support patients who want to end their lives using various drugs. This means that such physicians no longer face legal actions for their practices. However, the law requires “medical practitioners and physicians to act in the best interests of the targeted patients” (Golden & Zoanni, 2010, p. 19). This means that they should provide the most desirable advise, support, and information to the patients who embrace the physician-assisted suicide idea.

That being the case, the legal and ethical issues associated with assisted suicide continue to divide many people in California. Some people have indicated clearly that the use of physician-assisted suicide is unethical and will continue to affect the health outcomes of many patients (Earned, 2012). Although the practice has been legalized in California, more people still believe that it should be vetoed in order to support the needs of many citizens. Incidentally, experts argue that the landmark act will continue to attract more supporters in the future.

Impacts on Modern Healthcare Environment

Physician-assisted suicide is a practice that has gained much attention in California and across the country. The impact of the practice on the country’s healthcare environment is something that cannot be underestimated. To begin with, physician-assisted suicide presents new concepts and ideas to support patients with different health conditions such as cancer (Anderson, 2015). For very many years, patients were supported by physicians and nurses in order to realize their health goals. Such goals forced physicians and healthcare providers to focus on the best approaches that can support their clients. Unfortunately, physician-assisted suicide has become a common concept in modern healthcare practice. Healthcare providers and patients can embrace the idea whenever the situation becomes unbearable.

The nature of nursing and medical practice has changed significantly because of the concept. Health Managers (HMs) are currently receiving new trainings in order to guide their followers. Such lessons are aimed at empowering more physicians and caregivers to provide the most desirable support to patients who want to die peacefully (Cohen-Almagor, 2015). Similarly, nurses are receiving new trainings in order to support more patients who want to end their lives using various drugs. This means that physician-assisted suicide has become a critical aspect of modern healthcare practice.

The healthcare environment is incomplete without the roles played by different pharmaceutical companies. These companies engage in research and development (R&D) in order to produce appropriate drugs that can treat various diseases. These companies have therefore been forced to produce appropriate drugs for patients who want to terminate their lives (Earned, 2012). Similarly, more learning institutions and healthcare professionals are focusing on new theoretical concepts that can be used to support the physician-assisted suicide practice.

Policymakers and legal professionals in the healthcare environment have been trying to come up with new arguments to support the use of assisted suicide. The presented ideas continue to convince more professionals in the healthcare environment. This fact explains why more states in the country continue to enact laws aimed at legalizing physician-assisted suicide (Cohen-Almagor, 2015). These developments will definitely transform the nature of healthcare delivery and support the diverse needs of many patients with terminal illnesses.

On the other hand, medical services have been delayed in specific scenarios when the expectations of different family members conflict with those of their patients. These issues have “emerged since the physician-assisted suicide practice is still in its infancy” (Earned, 2012, p. 515). Many professionals, policymakers, and healthcare professionals are still opposed to the practice. Such professionals argue that assisted suicide should be abolished since it is immoral, unacceptable, and unethical. This situation has made it impossible for many health institutions to outline the best procedures for implementing the practice.

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This discussion shows clearly that the idea of physician-assisted suicide has played a critical role towards transforming the nature of healthcare in the United States. Many learning and healthcare institutions are considering new ideas that can be used to support the practice. The greatest challenge is that physician-assisted suicide is a divisive issue that continues to affect the global healthcare sector. This analysis explains why the practice will definitely transform the nature, quality, and future of nation’s healthcare systems (Golden & Zoanni, 2010). Similarly, many countries across the globe will find it hard to ignore the issues associated with physician-assisted suicide.

Potential Implications for the Future of Healthcare

Many scholars have presented diverse views regarding the potential implications of physician-assisted suicide for the future of healthcare. The “ultimate goal of healthcare practice is to support the needs of many patients and make it easier for them to lead better lives” (Anderson, 2015, para. 3). This notion is supported by the Hippocratic Oath undertaken by many professionals in the sector (Anderson, 2015). Physicians and nurses are never expected to harm their clients. That being the case, some specialists have argued that the physician-assisted suicide law is erroneous and will affect the future of healthcare negatively. This is the case because physicians should be on the frontline to support the needs of their respective patients.

Doctors and physicians should never be allowed to assist patients to end their lives. Since the practice is against this promise, experts believe that the oaths taken by physicians should be rewritten in order to consider the practice. The opponents have gone further to indicate that the law will make it impossible for more physicians to provide evidence-based medical support to more patients in the future. This happens to be the case because more physicians will be willing to advise their patients and encourage them to embrace the idea of physician-assisted suicide (Gopal, 2015). Consequently, more physicians will encourage their clients to die without dignity. This development will definitely affect the healthcare sector negatively.

Some skeptics believe that the move to allow physician-assisted suicide will endanger many weak patients who do not have adequate resources to acquire quality medical support. This might be the case because more nurses and physicians will be unwilling to support the health needs of such patients. The move will “betray human equality and dignity” (Anderson, 2015, para. 1). These issues will affect the effectiveness and sustainability of healthcare in the country.

On the other hand, some analysts have indicated that the law will transform the sector and ensure quality services are available to more patients (Grewal, Harrison, & Jeffrey, 2012). For instance, the resources used to support the lives of patients with untreatable diseases will be available to other community members. This strategy will support the health needs of more citizens.

More nurses and physicians will be available to offer quality care to other clients. The practice will also give patients autonomy to have their needs addressed. Individuals who want to terminate their lives will be free to do so. Such patients will eventually find it easier to realize their health goals. New policies and laws will emerge to support better healthcare practices (Gopal, 2015). Such policies will ensure quality health services are available to more people in the country. That being the case, the idea of physician-assisted suicide will have both positive and negative impacts on the future of healthcare in the country.

Concluding Remarks

Physicians and medical practitioners should consider the implications of the physician-assisted suicide for the future of nursing. This knowledge will make it easier for them to use their philosophies and offer evidence-based care to their respective patients. This strategy will address the legal and ethical issues discussed above. The ultimate goal of medical practice should be to secure the best health outcome for the targeted patient (Ganzini, 2015). The use of physician-assisted suicide can be permitted in different healthcare settings. However, physicians should ensure the practice is embraced after all avenues and resources have been exhausted. This practice will ensure the rights and dignity of every patient is respected.


Anderson, R. (2015). Always care, never kill: How physician-assisted suicide endangers the weak, corrupts medicine, compromises the family, and violates human dignity and equality. Heritage. Web.

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Cohen-Almagor, R. (2015). An argument for physician-assisted suicide and against euthanasia. Ethics, Medicine and Public Health, 1(1), 431-441.

Coker, M. (2013). Elizabeth Jane Barrett gets 3 years probation after copping to adding WWII vet’s suicide. OC Weekly. Web.

Earned, M. (2012). The dangers of assisted suicide. Defending Life, 1(1), 513-521.

Ganzini, L. (2015). Legalized physician-assisted death in Oregon. QUT Law Review, 16(1), 76-83.

Golden, M., & Zoanni, T. (2010). Killing us softly: The dangers of legalizing assisted suicide. Disability and Health Journal, 3(1), 16-30.

Gopal, A. (2015). Physician-assisted suicide: Considering the evidence, existential distress, and an emerging role for psychiatry. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry Law, 43(1), 183-190.

Grewal, B., Harrison, J., & Jeffrey, D. (2012). Licensed to kill: The impact of legalizing euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide on the training of UK medical students. Scottish Universities Medical Journal, 1(1), 6-13.

Smith, K., Goy, E., Harvath, T., & Ganzini, L. (2011). Quality of death and dying in patients who request physician-assisted death. Journal of Palliative Medicine, 14(4), 445-450.

Welborn, L. (2013). Defense in assisted suicide: Woman unaware vet wanted to die. The OC Register. Web.

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