Physician assisted suicide is a term used to refer to the assistance given to a terminally ill patient by a professional medical practitioner who gives a prescription of a lethal dose that will terminate the life of the patient without suffering, but with request from the patient (Kopelman & De Ville, 2001).
This topic has become a household debate in the world. The term suicide is used conventionally to mean premature death of a person. The debaters have taken a number of standpoints in their arguments such as religious, legal and general moral setting of the society.
The use of this term physician assisted suicide has brought debate on the actual meaning of the term suicide. In physician assisted suicide the term suicide has been defined as the timely death of a person with the assistance of a doctor due to a terminal illness (Kopelman & De Ville, 2001). To some debaters, this has tied the doctors to the actual killing of people. This has raised several ethical questions such as whether doctors should be held responsible for murder.
The argument used to tie doctors to the death of their patients is that terminally ill patients are often incapacitated and thus, they cannot make an informed decision regarding their lives. To ensure that the physicians are not sued for assisting terminally ill patients, the medics came up with a program that included involuntary psychiatric treatment to the patients without their consent. This further leads to another ethical issue surrounding the issue of physician assisted suicide.
As a result of the impression that had been painted on the term physician assisted suicide a number of professional bodies united and they appealed that the word “suicide” be changed. This was because only people who are mentally ill and disturbed are incapable of making competent decisions and as a result they are the only ones who have the capability of committing suicide. The terminally ill patients have full sanity and therefore, they can make rational decisions to end their lives or not.
This led to the adoption of the term physician aid in dying and its practices were mandated by the Washington and Oregon Death Dignity Act, which insisted on elaborating that only decision-competent patients whose disease give them six or less months of living are eligible to ask for a physician aid in dying and not suicide as a number of debaters had tried to imply.
The public opinion of physician assisted death is mixed. In some states, the public supports physician aid in dying. In Washington State for instance, residents voted in favor of physician aid in dying for terminally ill patients who have less than six months of living.
Other countries that have legalized physician aid in dying include the Belgium, Netherlands and Switzerland, however, the ground rules that guide its practice are varies from country to country. All the other countries, the practice of physician aid in death is illegal and is practices illegally.
However, it is important to note that even in countries that physician assistance in dying is legally accepted, the opinions of the populace remain highly divergent. For instance, the residents Washington voted 58% to allow the practice to come into effect and 42% opposed the new legislature. The controversies that come with the debate were based mainly on the definition of life and at what stage does it become important to terminate it.
The opponents of physician assistance in dying process have argued that terminating life leads to a death that is not dignified. This argument has been based on the notion that human life is dignified and no human induced processes should induce it. The proponents of this view assert that people should undergo natural death regardless of the consequences as any assistance in death is considered premature and therefore uncalled for.
I n America, the public is greatly divided on this issue of physician assisted suicide with two thirds of the population being aware that there are certain illnesses that bring a lot of suffering. Some argue that the patient’s suffering should be terminated through the assistance of the doctors especially where the patients suffer from terminally ill infections.
However, the opponents of assistance in dying have stubbornly held that patients should be let to undergo a natural death as opposed to any form of assistance for their death (Beauchamp et al, 2007). This shows the sensitivity of the debate. Physicians too are divided on this issue with individuals giving that the practice is ethically justified, but physician professional organization such as the American Medical Association have argued that physician assisted suicide undermines the integrity of the medical profession (Beauchamp et al, 2007).
The proponent of physician assisted suicide as being ethically justifiable argues that physician assisted suicide is a way of expressing compassion. They argue that most terminal illnesses come with a lot of pain and as a result a lot of suffering to the patients. The patients need people to take care of them which lead to loss of independence and lowering of dignity of the patients. In other cases, the patient could be in a coma and they do not have functional capability of their bodies.
They have to be taken care of. Being dependent could put the self-esteem of the patient in danger. This means that physician assisted suicide could be the only compassionate way of relieving the patient the pain. After all, why jeopardize the confidence of a person and who will eventually die? (Beauchamp et al, 2007)
Secondly, they argue on the basis of individual liberty versus the state interest. The state is mandated to protect life. It is mandatory that every state safeguards the life of its citizens. The society is mandated to protect life and thus, it takes it as its duty to ensure that there are minimal deaths especially from quarters that are mandated to protect life (Braddock, 2011).
The third reason that motivates the proponents of physician assisted suicide is their argument that the practice is rampant, but continues to happen in secrecy. Since the practice has been happening and will continue to happen, it should be made in a transparent manner.
Despite being outlawed in all states of the United States apart form two, physician assisted suicide continues to be practiced in secrecy. The fact that it is practiced in secrecy makes it a crime equivalent to madder. This leads to the ethical question whether it is sound for people entrusted to protect life to prematurely end it. (Beauchamp et al, 2007).
The fourth argument advanced by the proponents of physician assisted suicide is that matters pertaining life should be left to be personal opinion. They reckon that a person is self autonomous and therefore, should be left to make his or her own decision independently.
They argue that the disease ailing an individual causes pain to him or her only and therefore, when death beckons and the circumstances that result in their death are personal. They propose that people with the right frame of mind should be left to choose the timing and the way that they are going to die (Beauchamp et al, 2007).
On the other hand, people who oppose physician assisted suicide have advanced several arguments in favor of their views. Firstly, is the sanctity of life. Life is sacred, it is given by God and only God has the power to take it from a person. They vehemently prohibit any method that can be used to terminate human life. They hold that physician assisted suicide is morally wrong because it puts an end to human life and, therefore, should not be practiced regardless of the case (Beauchamp et al, 2007).
Secondly, they hold that once physician assisted suicide is legalized; there are possibilities of it being abused. They argue that not all people have access to quality healthcare and as a result, those who lack that power will be forced into using assisted suicide as the alternative. Bed ridden patients are dependent and at times the cost of ensuring that their well being is upheld can be very high which my result to relatives opting to use physician assisted death as an alternative to ease themselves from the financial burden.
According to the opponents, this represents one of the possible cases of abuses that this legislation may bring about. Another issue of ethical concern would be the legal cover that may be given to people who may induce this practice to patients who may not be willing to undergo an assisted death, but have no capacity to influence the decision of the decision makers concerning the patient’s life.
Legalizing assisted suicide therefore would be equivalent to snatching the power of self will towards a patient’s life from the patient (Braddock, 2011).
Another possible abuse may be related to property crimes where the patients with vast property are assisted to have quick deaths probably to benefit from the property left behind. The system that advocates for the adoption of physician assisted suicide fails to recognize the possible abuse loopholes that may be utilized to for the benefit of the supposed beneficiaries.
Thirdly is tarnishing of professional integrity. The opponents argue that medicine from the beginning was held with safeguarding life and not taking it. This means that the implementation of physician assisted suicide will harm the professional integrity of medical practitioners (Braddock, 2011).
According to Braddock, Medical practitioners are trained to support life as opposed to assisting towards its end. When the practitioners are allowed to concentrate on ending life, they may loose the public confidence as life savers which would lead to deteriorated medical standards.
In conclusion, my personal opinion regarding this subject is that the overall wellbeing of the society is the most important thing and thus, there are specific incidences where physician assisted suicide should be applied. In my informed opinion, people who are terminally ill and are willing to undergo an assisted death to end their suffering should be given a dignified sendoff.
Forcing such people to undergo pain and suffering waiting for natural death should be an uncalled for trouble that ought to be avoided. Therefore, under exceptional circumstances, this practice should be encouraged.
Kopelman, L. M. & De Ville, K. A. (2001) Physician-assisted suicide: what are the issues? New York: Springer
Beauchamp, T., L., Walters, L. & Kahn, J., P. (2007). Contemporary Issues in Bioethics. California: Wadsworth Publishing Company
Braddock, C., H. (2011). Ethics in Medicine; Physician Aid-in-Dying. University of Washington School of Medicine. Web.