Physician assisted suicide (PAS) is regarded by many in the medical field as an unethical practice, being that the purpose of being a medical professional is to prolong the patient’s life, of course. But the question remains: should we prolong a patient’s life, and possibly make them suffer until their untimely demise; or should we put them out of their misery at their own request? This is a question of morality, one that beckons us to try and understand the perspective from both the medical professionals and their patients. Although many disagree with the practice, in some cases, physician assisted suicide is the best option for the well-being of patient, allowing them a release from their suffering.
Hippocratic oaths taken by doctors state that they have an ethical responsibility to make sure that their patient lives, but no modern oath actually forbids physician assisted suicide. In a study of 150 hippocratic oaths conducted by Orr, R. D., N. Pang, E. D. Pellegrino, and M. Siegler, it was found that “only 14 percent of modern oaths prohibit euthanasia” and that none prohibit PAS (Tyson). While the importance of the modern oath is declining, many doctors still hold it firm in their beliefs, and with PAS not being banned in any of them, save the classical, it should be noted that there is nothing inherently wrong the two. Infact, under the circumstances in which it would be administered, it would be completely ethical as it relieves a terminally ill patient of their pain, that’s why “54 percent of American doctors support assisted suicide” (Gorman).
Physician assisted suicide is only for those who are already on death’s door. Not everyone is eligible for PAS, only those who have been “diagnosed with a terminal illness that will lead to death within six months” (ProCon.org) and are “capable of making and communicating health care decisions for him/herself” (ProCon.org)—meaning that they can consciously make the decision to end their own life—can participate in PAS. Terminally ill patients having the option of PAS grants them the option die if their suffering, in any form, becomes too much for them to bear. Morally, this is better than prolonging the patient’s life, forcing them to suffer for a longer period of time. Furthermore, because the patient must be able to consciously decide whether or not to kill themselves, it is clear that they know exactly what they are deciding to do and why they want to do it. Whether it be to escape physical pain or psychological pain, they have come to the conclusion that ending their lives—already shortened by their terminal illness—will save them from a great deal of suffering. It should also be noted that PAS is not dissimilar from legal right of refusing treatment, a practice that also accelerates the death of the patient.
This solution to the terminally is is not a clear-cut as it seems, some believe that PAS could lead to eventually doctors abusing their power. These people fear that intentionally recommending PAS those who are not terminally ill, or possibly making decisions out of bias. Infact, “studies have found that Do Not Resuscitate orders are more frequently used for black people, alcohol misusers, non-English speakers, and people infected with Human Immunodeficiency Virus” (THE ARGUMENT). If these biases are found in existing practices, then the probability of them occurring in PAS is high. While patients still have to request PAS in order for it to take place, physicians are the ones who tell the patients what is wrong with them and can recommend PAS if their situation is undesirable. This, along with the fear that assisted suicide will become more mainstream and available to not only the terminally ill, but the disabled too, frighten people. This is a slippery slope that could lead to the intentional murder of patients based on bias or other contributing factors. Of course this situation is extreme, but the extremes must be taken into account when questioning the morality.
While the morality of PAS is highly debated among medical professionals, PAS is the best option for the terminally ill as it releases them from any type of suffering that they may be enduring. People should not be forced to suffer for the rest of their lives. The moral choice is to allow them to decide whether or not they want to prolong or end their own lives after being diagnosed as terminally ill.
Gorman, Anna. “From Doctor to Patient to Assisted-Suicide Advocate.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 31 Mar. 2015, www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/03/from-doctor-to-patient-to-assisted-suicide-advocate/389108/.
ProCon.org. “State-by-State Guide to Physician-Assisted Suicide.” ProCon.org. 21 Feb. 2017, 12:58 p.m., euthanasia.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000132
“THE ARGUMENT AGAINST ASSISTED SUICIDE.” Medical Ethics and Health, 16 Mar. 2015, sites.psu.edu/mehealth/2015/03/16/arguments-against-assisted-suicide/comment-page-1/.
Tyson, Peter. “The Hippocratic Oath Today.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 27 Mar. 2001, www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/body/hippocratic-oath-today.html.
Image from: http://www.md-health.com/Physician-Assisted-Suicide-Pros.html