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The Debate Over Assisted Suicide

Updated on June 28, 2011

God Gives Life

Many religious groups sincerely believe God gives life and only God should have the right to terminate it. Therefore, suicide in any form would put them in direct conflict with His divine will.

However, for each devoutly religious person there are many having liberal religious or nonsectarian beliefs. To them euthanasia represents a more desirable option in some instances. There are also many who strongly disagree with religiously based reasoning’s and would like to keep suicide or euthanasia open as an option.

Heated debates rage on both sides of this argument. But are the right questions being asked? In reality the basic questions about euthanasia and assisted suicide should be: Who is terminally ill and feels their life isn’t worth living due to excruciating pain or loss of physical capabilities to enjoy life? In either case it is paramount to determine if the individual requesting such assistance is of sound mind and not just suffering from extreme depression.

Major opposition to physician assisted suicide (PAS) comes mainly from conservative religious groups. They are also usually the same ones at the forefront battling abortion, same sex marriage, gay equality and the like. Medical associations whose job it is to save lives’ not take them, also top the list.

Essentially A Legal Question

Essentially, the subject is a legal question whether to empower people to have control over their own bodies. To date, unless a person lives in Colombia, Japan, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Albania or Thailand, or in the U.S. states of Montana, Oregon, or Washington, the act is unlawful.

Assisted suicide is the term used when an individual helps another person die upon their request. A request usually initiated by people with a terminal illness."Assistance" can be a number of things such as giving a terminally ill person a way to end their own lives. That could be drugs or equipment or other actions. Technically speaking, the practice may be legal or illegal depending on where one lives.

Although assisted suicide is legal in three states there are major hurdles to overcome in exercising the provisions. In Oregon for example, a physician is required to prescribe medication, however it must be self administered. They must also be a legal resident of that state, have six months or less to live, have a written request for the prescription and at least two verbal requests from the patient in order to avoid prosecution.

Suicide As An Option

Suicide is an option, as terrible as it may be, theoretically available to all. But a terminally ill or disabled person in a hospital setting may not be able to act on this alternative. Are they are being discriminated against because of a disability?

Physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia differ in whether or not the physician participates in the action that finally ends life: In PAS the physician provides the necessary means or information and the patient performs the act. In euthanasia: The physician performs it.

But there are important things to remember. First, PAS is not a new concept. Suffering has always been a part of the human experience. Patients have asked doctors to end their suffering since the beginning of medicine. What they don’t consider however, is there are alternatives to PAS.

Physical suffering may have been harder to bear in the past but modern medicine now has more technology, skills and newer medications to relieve suffering than ever before. Today, specialists believe if patients have access to these the suffering of most patients with life-threatening conditions could be effectively controlled to curb a desire for a hasty departure from this life.

Even so, there are many arguments against assisted suicide. For one, the physicians’ Hippocratic Oath prohibits dispensing deadly medicines under any circumstances. The American Medical Association also condemns assisted suicide as unethical.

Another objection is the fear if even the slightest action is taken to assist someone to die, it could snowball into full scale annihilation of the handicapped, elderly, deformed babies or anyone deemed an “inconvenience” to society. Given our society’s values, it wouldn’t seem likely, but nonetheless, the fear exists. And then there is always a possibility of a misdiagnosis.

But the question arises do people have the personal right to do what they want with their own body? Some would think so, although there could be consequences to that theory. Americans aren’t legally allowed to sell themselves into slavery, prostitution or have duels in the street with pistols. By using this line of reasoning the choice becomes decidedly less clear.

Sometimes the problem isn’t just want to escape a life of pain. Other factors may be at play. What about the patient who feels guilty about the financial burden they are imposing on loved ones? Or, families out of sheer desperation and being emotionally drained might resort to ending the suffering of a family member.

In light of these arguments, are we consigning terminally ill patients whose suffering can’t be helped to needless pain and agony? That’s what the controversy is all about…deciding what is legally and morally right when ending a human life is in question. The subject poses questions that severely test our moral wisdom.

But in some cases wouldn’t the choice of a patient take precedence over some considerations? For example, a person with an incurable illness, severe disability and tortured with unbearable pain to the point a meaningful existence is no longer possible. If this person sincerely wanted to end their suffering, wouldn’t death be their rightful choice and one which should be honored.

The most powerful argument for PAS comes from families who have seen loved ones slowly waste away in acute agony. Families suffer a sense of helplessness. Fortunately cases such as these are rare. In any case, to say it is sometimes acceptable to take life doesn’t mean it is right.

When any feasible possibility of meaningful, enjoyable life exists, the preference for life should be the logical choice. And, every possible effort must be made to make life preferable to death. However, mentally ill or severely depressed people present special problems. They may be unable to render a competent decision…in which case that burden would fall to the family. However, that doesn’t make the decision any easier. Guilt sometimes plagues the decision maker in these cases. A simple living will could save the family and doctors much time and effort.

A similar situation would be a young person suffering from a progressive degenerative disease. Unlike an older person who wouldn’t have as much time left to have to endure pain, a younger person might be faced with a lifetime.

The subject opens up a whole Pandora’s Box of possible quandaries. If PAS was legalized everywhere, isn’t it to be expected money would come into the picture? Insurance companies, hospitals, nursing homes and others would undoubtedly profit by trying to reduce costs of providing for the elderly and seriously ill. In fact, it’s quite likely ways to put subtle pressure on the dying and their families to choose death sooner rather than later would be devised. Obviously, caution should be taken when dealing with those who stand to gain by that choice.


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    • Lucky Cats profile image

      Kathy 7 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California've really written an insightful, questioning piece. I like that you have explored every angle. This is/would be an extremely difficult thing to consider...particularly when one considers all the consequences/possibilities/difficulties that you have listed here. Thank you for a great work and one that is very very thought provoking. UP/Useful.