Physician-assisted suicide happens when a person commits suicide with the help of a physician. A physician supplies information and the means of committing suicide to a person so that they can easily terminate their own life. The physicians do this either by a prescription for lethal dose of sleeping pills or a supply of carbon monoxide gas. The awesome decision to live or die belongs not to the courts, to attorneys, to hospitals, to doctors, to nurses, or to any other group, but to the person whose life it is (Egendorf 140). If physician-assisted suicide were generally available, a small percentage of people would request it. Physician-assisted suicide is a very serious matter in which many patients consider under certain circumstances.
Many people argue over the issue if an individual has the right to end their own life, or if its only Gods decision. According to Jenny Murphy, every individual has the right to end their own life (Online). On the other hand, the choice between life and death belongs to God, not to an individual. Ill patients suffering a lot of pain may not be competent to make the decision of wanting to live or die. Even though a small percentage request physician-assisted suicide, in reality, some people do. People seeking physician-assisted suicide are for many reasons. These people are the terminally ill, people who feel their life is not worth living because of intractable pain, people who repeatedly ask for help in committing suicide, and/or people who are in sound mind and not suffering from depression. There are so many problems the patient is experiencing, that they feel the only answer is assisted suicide.
Many dying patients, who are not to the point where they feel the only answer if assisted suicide, have adequate access to pain controlling medication. In some cases the medication is not the answer. The patients may ask for assistance in dying. Most people who would ask for assistance in dying may mean someones quality of life has shrunk to zero. Another possibility is that someone simply wants to die with dignity before they become very sick from illnesses such as Huntingtons Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, AIDS, or Alzheimers (OKeefe Online). Another reason a patient might ask for assistance in dying is because they find themselves useless and cant even manage taking care of themselves. They may be totally dependent upon someone, feeling like an infant, which is difficult to handle.
There are many beliefs concerning physician-assisted suicide. Some people believe in it, some dont, some partly believe in it, (depending on circumstances), and some dont care. The people of communities who believe in physician-assisted suicide believe that ill patients should be allowed to end their lives with dignity, and physician-assisted suicide is a compassionate solution to human suffering and should not be criminalized (Murphy Online). The people who dont believe in physician-assisted suicide say doctors should help the ill patients with their lives, not put an end to them (Murphy Online). They consider physician-assisted suicide as killing a patient, which is a very serious matter.
The medical community has many beliefs on this issue. Some physicians are willing to help patients die in some situations. Other doctors strongly oppose the idea of helping someone die. They say, If someone assists you with your death, you have not committed suicide, you have been killed (Katz 4C). The Hippocratic Oath was laid by new physicians for ethical professional behavior. Hippocrates, a Greek physician of 5th Century BCE, wrote this oath. His writings not only had a great impact on the content of Greek medical thought, but also on the ethics of medical practice (Egendorf 124). Not only is the American Medical Association opposed to physician assisted suicide, they have taken an oath to do everything in their power to aid the sick not end their life.
Like the people of communities and the medical community, the Christians are also strongly against physician-assisted suicide because they believe it violates ones natural desire to live, it harms other people, and life is the gift of God and can only be taken by God. They believe that in helping the terminally ill to kill themselves, we are colluding not only in their dehumanization, but our own(OKeefe Online).
A common question asked by the media, courts, legislatures and professional societies is, Should assisted suicide be only physician-assisted? According to Kathy Faber-Langendoen, the nurses, social workers and clergy should have more of a contribution in assisting suicides because suicide should be humane and effective to appropriate cases (482). Physician involvement is necessary and they have potential roles in assisting suicides. These roles consist of seven steps. The first step is assessing the request for assisted suicides. This step helps the patients consider alternatives, often with the hope that they will find an acceptable option to suicide. The second role is preparing the person for dying which is self-explanatory. The third step is providing the means. Physician involvement in assessing diagnosis, prognosis and the full range of treatment options. The fourth step is providing support, which is very important. This support should take place during administration of the medications and while the patient is dying. The physician is unlikely to be the key player in attending to the patient and familys needs (Faber-Langendoen 485). The fifth step is managing the complications. If the procedure fails, a physician, family member, nurse or other will have to attend to the complications. The sixth step is reporting the assisted suicide. This is very important to the public because it provides a way to monitor the practice of assisted suicide (Faber-Langendoen 486). The seventh step is coordinating and overseeing the overall process. A physician might assess the request and a multidisciplinary team led by a nurse, which might perform the other steps. According to Faber-Langendoen, a physician may need to be part of, but not necessarily the leader of that group (487). The willingness of other professionals including nurses, social workers, and clergy to participate and even take the lead in assisting suicides is critical.
The nurses, social workers, clergy, and doctors have somewhat of a relationship with the patient, but the relationship between the doctors and patients is the strongest. People believe that the doctor-patient relationship has the power to heal, whether it is with comfort, faith, and/or love. Patients give physicians wide access to intimate knowledge comparable to the trust given to priests and psychotherapists and there is no comparison to be made to the dropping of physical barriers that occurs in the relationship. The patients self-interest should always be the physicians priority. Because the physician has the best knowledge, society grants him permission to put an end to the patients life, given the wishes of the patient. Society even allows the physicians indirectly to hasten death through medications that alleviate pain and anxiety. The doctors participating in taking a patients life also threatens the trust number of the physician-patient relationship (Egendorf 163).
A man named Jack Kevorkian, a Michigan pathologist, also believed in a patients right to die. He had been put into the headlines and onto the news by helping patients who wanted to end their suffering and die. Once the news media spread the word, Doctor Death had more patients than he could handle. With high-tech medicine prolonging the agony of unstoppable disease, Jack Kevorkian launched a major public debate (Egendorf 139). Kevorkian believed in choice for life, which many people strongly disagree with. He thought if one wanted their life to be put to an end, then there wish should be granted. This debate caused many disagreements throughout the world, which is still talked about up to this very day. Controversy about medical ethics would begin after the day an Oregon woman, lying in the back of Kevorkians VW van, started the flow of lethal drugs into her veins and Doctor Death told her: Have a nice trip (Egendorf 139).
Because the media continually ridiculed Jack Kevorkian, he was banned from medical practice in 1991. He was brought to trial three times for assisting suicides and was acquitted in each trial. His fourth trial was declared as a mistrial. He has admitted to assisting in at least 45 suicides. Many people, including the patients, agree with his feeling about ending a persons suffering and agony. He once stated at one of his trials the following: My desire always is to aid the suffering human being as I would any suffering entity. When I wince at their suffering, I must do something. Even if I didnt wince, as a physician I must do something. It is never nice to see a human life ended. But when the agony ends, it ameliorates what I feel (Egendorf 140).
Some think that history will remember Jack Kevorkian as the truly a great man. Families think that he helped because he respected the request of the patients. Others families disagree because they think patients may be requesting death as the answer out of desperation. Physicians, the government, and some families think, If embraced as social policy, Kevorkianism will destroy the ethic which as proclaimed the sanctity of life for the last two thousand years (Egendorf 140). Lawyers and courts have inevitably become involved with physician-assisted suicides. Physician-assisted suicide is a very serious matter, when it comes to the doctors participation, which is why there are many different views. In March, 1996, in San Francisco, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit became the first federal appeals court in the country to recognize a constitutional right to determine the time and manner of ones own death (Rosen 66). Judge Stephen Reinhardt ruled that Washington States law against suicide is unconstitutional. The court formally ruled that a mentally competent, terminally ill patient has a constitutional right to doctor-assisted suicide. It is in the opinion of the court that the right to be killed should extend to the disabled, ruling that seriously impaired individuals, along with non-impaired individuals, will be the beneficiaries of the liberty interest asserted here (Murphy Online). The Ninth and Second Circuit Court of Appeals ended up having a common ruling about assisted suicides. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York also ruled that assisted suicide is a constitutional right for dying people. A month after Judge Reinhardt struck down Washington states law prohibiting assisted suicide, three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit struck down New York states assisted suicide law. Several New York judges did not agree with Judge Reinhardts ruling. However, in the end they reached the same result stating New York has a duty to treat equally all competent people who are in the final stages of fatal illness and wish to hasten their deaths (Rosen 68-69). Both the Ninth and Second ruling had currently came to a halt as far as making any further decisions. In 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution does not grant Americans the right to die. However, states are not prevented from passing laws that would establish this right.
In conclusion, there are many views on physician-assisted suicide. Basically, there are some people that are against this type of suicide because they feel like it should be Gods decision on when to take a persons life. These people believe that when a physician has agreed to assist a patient with their suicide, the physician has agreed to kill the patient due to their patients situation. On the other hand, there are people who believe in physician-assisted suicide. They believe that one has control of their life, and if they want to die, then they have the right to make that call. They, also, believe the terminally ill patients should be allowed to end their lives with dignity. People, who strongly oppose to physician-assisted suicide, believe that it is wrong for a physician to take away another human beings life and not even feel guilty about it. They believe that when a patient decides on whether they want to follow through on their physician-assisted suicide, its out of desperation and that their body is taking over their mind. There are many patients, who arent on their death bed, that have diseases without a cure. A person who has a very strong belief in the opposition of physician-assisted, believe that the patients without a cure or have no other answers, should seek help and try to live life to its fullest. Life is a great gift; it shouldnt be abused or taken away. Its very understandable that these ill patients go through so much pain (mentally and physically), that they want to die. That is why so many people argue about this certain issue today.