Physician assisted suicide (PAS) is a methodology of suicide enabled or made possible by the act of a physician providing his or her patient with some means of killing themselves. Additionally, one can describe it as the prescription of lethal medication that is self-administrable to patients who wish to end their lives. In the bioethics field, physician assisted suicide is at times discussed alongside euthanasia. However, the two terms do not refer to the same thing since euthanasia can be described as causing an individual’s death for his sake or the mercy killing of an individual by another individual (Orfali, 6). This is an exceedingly controversial topic with even countries that boast of having a great deal of legal, moral and philosophical foundations, such as United States and parts of Europe having exceedingly differing opinions and conclusions witnessed in their formulation of legislature for this subject. In this case, I argue that there are varying cases for and against physician assisted suicide, but there is a stronger case for physicians having the right to aid in assisted suicide.
Legalizing the practice of physician-assisted suicide has been a controversial topic for many decades based on the rights and freedoms of the people and contrasting ethical and moral aspects. Most importantly, it is essential to understand that in any given society banning a practice requires greater effort than allowing it. This is because of value the society places on the liberties and rights of each of its member. Since individual liberties are so paramount, to deny an individual a right to do something the society has to have an exceedingly compelling reason to override it. In this case, the results of a physician assisted suicide decision are extremely personal and therefore, the factor of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ have to be over emphasized. Every individual has the basic right of determining the course of his or her own life and death can be described as a part of this course. Therefore, for physician assisted suicide to be legalized one has to argue for the fact that it should not be deemed illegal. There are varying states that have already legalized physician-assisted suicide in the United States. This seeks to show that there are documented statistics that can be used to guide the legalization of physician-assisted suicide (Jones and Paton, 599). Oregon was the first state to legalize PAS for terminally ill patients in 1998. A Montana court in 2010 declared that PAS was not contrary to any public policy or legal precedent. In 2008, Washington passed a similar law while Vermont followed suit in 2013 (Jones and Paton, 599). Statistics indicate that there were 133 assisted deaths in Washington and 73 in Oregon in 2013.
Move to Legalize
One of the major arguments used to dispute the legalization of physician-assisted suicide is that the nation has a paternalistic interest that is to keep all its people alive. This means that all deaths of humans are unfair and immoral to those who die whether the death is personally inflicted or otherwise (Crocker, 7). However, one can argue that physician assisted suicide would better serve the nation’s interests. This would be so if people considered the meaning of paternalism as it pertains to the rights and liberties of the people. Traditional arguments believe that the west’s paternalism is to always keep its people alive no matter the cost; however, they fail to consider the aspect of the quality of life that each nation would wish for its people. One of the most common values in the United States history is the rights to liberty, life and pursuit of happiness for all its citizens. If this is what the United States deems valuable for its people, then it should work in a paternalistic manner that supports all these values.
Allowing physician assisted suicide eliminates the right to life. However, banning it eliminates an individual’s right to pursuit of happiness. Happiness is a continuous state between misery and joy and pain causes misery (Orfali, 61). Physician assisted suicide allows for the elimination of pain mental and or physical pain and in this way we can refer to PAS as a way of eradicating unhappiness. Therefore, in the case of PAS, the right to life and pursuit of happiness are contradicting. Nevertheless, we are left with the option of liberty, which we can describe as the right to a choice. This means that the patient is left with option of making his or her own choice. This concept supports the legalization of physician-assisted suicide only if an individual’s illness limits his or her ability to pursue happiness. However, it has its own limitations in that it largely considers cases of terminal and incurable diseases where happiness is impossible. Additionally, patients have to categorically and clearly indicate that they want to die. This can be a cause of concern for patients who are incapable of communicating to ensure that abuse of physician-assisted suicide is not easy or taken advantage of by other individuals.
Another legitimate issue with the legalization of PAS is its abuse also referred to as the slippery slope argument (Crocker, 10). Opponents of the legalization of PAS state that it is inevitable that if physician assisted suicide is legalized patients will be given this option even if they do not qualify. It is also said that patients themselves might also submit themselves to PAS due to other pressures such as poverty. However, these are unsubstantiated claims as they are speculative by definition. There has never been evidence that physician assisted suicide will be abused with experiences in states such as Oregon and countries such as Netherlands showing no increased requests for physician assisted suicides (Jones and Paton, 604). Social pressures such as poverty cannot be described as forces that will lead to abuse of physician-assisted suicide. There is also the argument that PAS undermines the major role of physicians as maintainers of health or healers (Crocker, 7). There is no conflict between the roles of a physician who recommends PAS wanting the best for his or her patients. This means that individual physicians should be allowed to choose if they want to offer PAS in an unbiased manner since they would still be healing their patients from unbearable conditions of total discomfort and unhappiness. Overall, the important thing should be to focus on how physician assisted suicide should be regulated to legalize it and prevent any negative consequences. This is because in the implementation of any issue, there are positive and negative effects and if the positive effects outweigh the negative, then the best thing to do is to ensure that there are regulations to protect against the negative effects that may arise.
Physician assisted suicide has to be regulated in a manner that exemplifies the principle claims of its proponents. Firstly, regulation has to uphold the rights and liberties of the people and therefore it has to be limited to scenarios where the patients are indisputably voluntary (Pratt, 6). This is in the case that an individual has clearly stated his choice. The legalization aspects should ensure that only self-administered lethal medications are given to patients wishing to end their lives (Pratt, 6). Additionally, the society has to consider that many terminally ill people might be suffering from psychological disorders such as depression. Therefore, patients who request for physician-assisted suicide have to meet qualified psychiatrists to determine whether they might be suffering from disorders that may be affecting their decisions. Psychiatrists also act as independent judges to whether one may be suicidal or requesting for PAS due to social pressures (Pratt, 6). Regulations should also ensure that patients are also provided with all the relevant information regarding their medical conditions, current situation or prognosis and any existing alternative treatments (Pratt, 7). Accurate information is necessary to enable patients to make rational voluntary decisions. Additionally, the regulations should ensure that apart from been advised of alternative treatments, the patients receives the best available treatments before resulting to physician assisted suicide (Pratt, 7).
In conclusion, it is without a doubt that the society is quite skeptical about physician assisted suicides based on the low number of states that have dared to legalize and pass regulations on the matter. However, generally speaking and based on varying literature reviews it is evident that the positive effects of legalizing PAS and giving physicians the right to aid in assisted suicide far outweighs the negative effects. The major support for this issue emanates from the support of people’s rights and liberties not forgetting the pursuit for happiness. People should be given the right to have a say in the course their lives takes and physician assisted suicide gives them this right without the interference of external parties. An individual of sound mind should be allowed to direct his life and doctors should under regulation be allowed to facilitate this to make it more safe and controllable (Pratt, 7).
Pratt, Elias. The Legalization of Physician-Assisted Suicide. Aporia vol. 27(1), 1-10. 2017. Accessed from: http://aporia.byu.edu/pdfs/pratt-legalization_physician_assisted_suicide.pdf
Jones, David and Paton, David. How Does Legalization of Physician-Assisted Suicide Affect Rates of Suicide? Southern Medical Journal, 2015, 108(10) 599-604. Accessed from: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/6df3/55333ceecc41b361da6dc996d90a17b96e9c.pdf
Orfali, Robert. Death with Dignity. The Case for Legalizing Physician-Assisted Dying and Euthanasia. Minneapolis: Mill City Press Inc, 2011. Accessed from: http://www.deathwithdignitybook.com/uploads/bookeu6samplepdf.pdf
Crocker, Kelly. Why Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide are Morally Permissible. Florida State University Libraries, 2013. Accessed from: https://diginole.lib.fsu.edu/islandora/object/fsu:209906/datastream/PDF/view