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Practice of Patient-Assisted Suicide

Healthcare, is an inseparable part of the human experience, a system that ensures the comprehensive and continued well-being of individuals in society. The peculiarities of healthcare are different in each country, but specific aspects of it remain universal no matter where a person might be. One such constant is the presence of doctors and other healthcare professionals, those that oversee and direct the healing process. Doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals are generally responsible for ensuring that each individual has an ability to maintain good health, successfully recover from any aliment and adopt practices more beneficial to themselves and the people around them. However, some individuals suffer from conditions that are beyond the capabilities of modern medicine, those that do not have the ability to be more healthy. Individuals with terminal illness are one such group, having to actively adapt to living with health complications and manage their wellbeing more than others. Such living is often difficult and can bring a variety of negative consequences both to the person suffering and those around them. In an effort to promote the happiness and agency of such people, some hold the perspective that an option to die might be more humane than prolonged suffering. Terminal illness often comes with pain and suffering, and emotional, physical, and monetary burden that is difficult to overcome. When the pain and suffering a person has to endure is too much to handle, some experts argue that assisted suicide should be a valid option. In that case, a prepared medical professional aids a person in ending their life in a painless and quick fashion. The practice is rather controversial, and many opinions on it exist. In this work, the benefits and general good of physician-assisted suicide will be argued for. The practice is a direct and most effective way of addressing the extreme levels of suffering and turmoil a terminally ill person can suffer from, and the legalization of the practice can help to lift the stigma of its use in the eyes of the general public. A person will be more likely to think of it as an option that they will not be judged for, an alternative that promotes their own choice.

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Firstly, the main benefit of physician assisted-suicide is its role in promoting and ensuring patient agency in the matters of their own health. One of the most basic and crucial parts of healthcare is supporting the autonomy and choice of the patients, as their humanity comes to the forefront of the healing process. Suffering from an illness or a condition, requiring the assistance of professionals can often strip a person’s ability to choose from them, making them more likely to be unhappy and susceptible to coercion. Having to be cared for and supported by others in most facets of their lives leaves patients at hospitals and healthcare facilities at the will of others, making general goals of interdependent living and prosperity unattainable. The need to make people feel welcomed and self-sufficient, while also providing them the help they need is what drives a large portion of medical practice. Listening to the patient’s wishes and adhering to them as closely as possible is one of the core job requirements for a healthcare professional, and giving a person the ability to choose for themselves is an integral part of the process. A person with a terminal illness, more often than not, has an even more limited capacity for agency, as many of the treatment procedures they have to go through are mandatory for survival. Terminal patients do not have an ultimate say in the amount of pain they have to suffer through and are unable to effectively utilize their humanity for their own benefit. An assisted suicide, then, is an ability for a person to exercise agency and choice in a dire situation, an approach that gives them the ability to retain their sense of self and dignity. When an individual feels that their quest to find self-fulfillment is unsuccessful, they can have an option to end it. In this case, the assistance of a doctor can be an ultimate sign of accepting a person’s agency as their own and allowing them to take responsibility for their choices. A doctor should be able to understand the reasoning behind such a choice and assist the patient in realizing their wishes. In a situation, overwise devoid of choice, an ultimate choice of a person should be regarded as valid and supported. To continue the effort of upholding, supporting, and ensuring that the basic human rights are provided to each individual, the use of assisted suicide in some cases is a necessity.

To counter this argument, some experts argue that the inclusion of such an option is ultimately more harmful to the individual and their close ones, as it introduces a number of liabilities and problems with it. Firstly, people argue that an ability to choose suicide goes against the healing process, and can virtually replenish the patient’s will to live and continue fighting their condition (American Medical Association). Feeling the mounting pressure of harsh procedures and responsibility before their family some may feel discouraged to continue living and actively working towards their recovery. If an alternative of a painless death is available, then a harsh and harmful treatment may seem like a worse option (Golden and Zoanni). This is a reasonable concern given the matter at hand, and the importance placed on the life of a person. With the depletion of religiosity in society, more people are choosing suicide as an alternative to pain (Lapierre). Society, as evidenced by a multitude of processes and practices people partake in, needs individuals to survive and function. On a large scale, and increased precedent for suicide can both impact society at large and singular people. An epidemic of suicide caused by the permissibility of the practice can be a serious concern for any community, and the practice of assisted suicide is being regarded with skepticism. However, it also needs to be stated that the choice between death and continued pain has already been a part of assisted suicide, and the increased rates of suicidality could just mean that people are feeling more empowered and socially accepted in their choice to end their lives. The increased rates of suicidality in face of physical or mental harm can seem to be a negative side effect of the procedure, but it can also be seen as proof of its effectiveness in promoting agency. A physically and mentally injured person has a harder time contributing meaningfully to society, making the impact of the procedure less drastic at a societal level. As a personal and interpersonal decision, the practice still leaves much speculation, but it cannot be disregarded as an unsuitable alternative. If a person willingly decides to end their life in the face of a terminal condition, their decision should be understood and respected.

Another argument against the practice is that it puts pressure on individuals that are able to die at the doctor’s hands. If a person’s family is in a difficult financial or emotional situation, suicide can seem like more of a necessity than a choice (Lagay). To make sure that a person is not being a burden on others, they can come to desire suicide with a physician’s assistance. This is also a valid and rightful consideration in the matter. Nevertheless, a person’s ability to choose what they want to do in their body and life is what should triumph over other considerations, as it is the primary consideration and factor of human fulfillment. To protect individuals from exploitation or negative effects of others, strict and thoughtful regulation is needed, as well as evaluations on whether a person truly has to go through with assisted suicide. With proper regulation and consideration of extenuating factors, it can be ensured that the decisions made by the person are fueled by the right motivations and thoughts.

Another, counterargument, from a diametrically opposite viewpoint, is that the practice is at odds with a role a nurse or doctor should perform. Many argue that a doctor, as a figure imbued with a certain amount of power, should only utilize it to heal and support, not harm or kill (Anderson). The old oaths given by doctors quite literally prohibited them from giving poisons to their patients, and a similar standard should be upheld (“The Argument for Assisted Suicide”). A person in a position of power over others should not have the capacity to harm, or fulfill a patient’s desire to do so. The argument, if it is to be examined, fundamentally misunderstands the purpose and usage of assisted suicide, as well as the role of a doctor in a patient’s life. Doctors should be able to alleviate pain, help patients with things they are unable to do by themselves, to guide and enforce practices that align with a number of considerations. A desire to ensure a person’s safety and also adhere to their wishes should be taken into consideration when a doctor is doing their work. The use of assisted suicide, contrary to what may be believed, is used to meet these two goals as well. An option to choose suicide and be free of the pain inflicted by terminal illness falls in line with promoting patient agency and choice, while the use of suicide itself as an escape safeguards patients from prolonged pain. In relation to the old Hippocratic oath and similar agreements, it is needed to note that the definition of a doctor, as well as medical practice, is changing constantly. With the introduction of new methods of healthcare and support, more and more practices that would be considered to be harmful in other cases are introduced. Something like chemotherapy, a procedure used to treat cancer, is one such example. Using a procedure that most certainly damages the human body and introduces harmful influences over it is common practice, as it is considered to be the only way to combat some forms of cancer. Similarly, assisted suicide can be the only way to promote human choice and well-being in specific cases.

Overall, the practice of assisted suicide is very controversial, and different experts hold different opinions on it. Its introduction has been thoroughly discussed and evaluated by various organizations and governments, in an effort to understand whether the practice can be considered beneficial to the wellbeing and life of terminally ill individuals. It can be used as a method of showing agency, and the support of assisted suicide is the support of the patient’s free choice. While some would argue that its approval increases suicidally among patients and promotes exploitation, others argue that it should be a valid and approved choice for a person, free of judgment or opposition. Doctors can use this approach to promote human autonomy and agency, a tool to effectively address the lack of both in cases of terminal illness (Dugdale). While the practice remains rather morally ambiguous, its use in a hospital or medical setting can be regulated to a large extent to reduce the possibility of adverse negative effects. The need to minimize negative influence over a terminally ill person can be met with proper implementation frameworks and regulations, and the increased rates of suicidality can be improved by a stricter system of examining potential candidates (Kumaravel). The use of assisted suicide should be accepted as valid and standard practice in cases where recovery or human prosperity are not available as an option and are treated as just another way of treating healthcare problems. Doctors must act as a dispenser of treatment, the ones that ensure that each person has the ability to live in a way most suited to them, without having to see each day with suffering.

References

Lagay, Faith. Virtual Mentor. 2001. Web.

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Dugdale, Lydia S, et al. National Library of Medicine, 2019. Web.

Kumaravel, Arthi. Psychiatry Online, 2018. Web.

American Medical Association. “Physician Assisted Suicide.” AMA, 2021. Web.

Lapierre, Sylvie, et al. “Religiosity and the Wish of Older Adults for Physician-Assisted Suicide.” MDPI, 2018. Web.

“The Argument for Assisted Suicide.” Medical Ethics and Health, 2015. Web.

Golden, Marilyn, and Tyler Zoanni. “Killing Us Softly: The Dangers of Legalizing Assisted Suicide.” Disability and Health Journal, vol. 3, no. 1, 2010, pp. 16–30.

Anderson, Ryan. “Always Care, Never Kill: How Physician-Assisted Suicide Endangers the Weak, Corrupts Medicine, Compromises the Family, and Violates Human Dignity and Equality.” The Heritage Foundation, 2015. Web.

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