The Ethics of Medically Assisted Suicide
While we as a people have continued to make great strides in our history regarding ethics, it is with a slow pace. We have issues today that we have always had, and we have issues today that we are seemingly making up all for the name of politics or religion. A social issue that is considered to be wrong, but should be changed, would be Medically Assisted Suicide.
I begin this with the premise that a human being has the right to choose anything in their life, as it is their own to live.
The facts that follow are up to your discretion. With ethics, there is no right or wrong answer, there is only opinions backed up by theories.
What is Medically Assisted Suicide?
If a human being is under a lot of pain and has an incurable disease with the eventual outcome of death, he or she may want to end their lives for many reasons.
One of these reasons may be that they do not want to feel the pain any longer, or that they do not want to generate higher hospital bills for their family to pay once they are gone. Rather than suffer for days, months, years, they turn to a licensed doctor who would be able to humanely put them under euthanasia.
These doctors are knowledgeable about what they are doing, understand the medications required to ease the patient into death, and are legally innocent by having the patient sign papers stating that the physician is in no way murdering them or enforcing this decision upon them. In fact, many times the patient would have to undergo therapy so that they understood what they were doing.
To be clear: this euthanasia is NOT for those who are depressed or are seeking an alternative to their otherwise healthy life. This solution would be for those with no prognosis of survival and are in a considerable amount of pain.
Medically Assisted Suicide is banned and treated as taboo in our country. There were a few doctors who had been assisting patients with their deaths, but they were put into jail. The most famous of these doctors was Dr. Jack Kevorkian. He was sentenced to 10-25 years in prison for his role in revolutionizing voluntary suicide, but was released after a few years on promise he would never help someone with their own death again.
Ethically, Medically Assisted Suicide should be legal and even celebrated as an honorary branch of medicine. Especially when speaking as the patient, it is important to understand that they are cognitive and understanding that they have no other option. The humane thing to do would be euthanasia, just as one would put to sleep a beloved pet if it were past the point of hope. If we would save our dog the suffering, why not the human patient?
The best ethical theory (though nearly all could be applicable) for this would be the Golden Rule. I, personally would not want to lie in a hospital bed, in pain and slowly dying. I would rather be able to make the choice to end my life and save myself the pain, and my family the bills. I would want the ability to choose between suffering and release. If I would want this, why would I deny it to another?
There are three ways to approach this situation. We can look at it through the eyes of the doctor, the family, or the patient.
The doctor would be trained in his profession and would have invested a vast sum of money in his education. Having a specialized career would further their investment and would generate a higher pay-out in the end. These doctors would have studied that there is nothing wrong with assisting those in pain end their lives, and would be guilt-free legally via the contracts and paperwork. Ethically, on the doctor's end, Medically Assisted Suicide would be a highly beneficial thing.
The family of the patient could feel a few ways about this outcome. They might feel that their family member was murdered, or put to rest. Most of the time, a family member would understand that the doctor had saved their loved one from suffering for months at a time. However, religion and the morals/ethics that marry religion, play a large part in their distaste for Medically Assisted Suicide. Fear that their loved one will be suffering eternally for their decision to escape mortal pain weighs heavily on the minds of the believers. There can be a high level of jealousy, anger, and selfishness that can come from thinking this way. Often, the family is not really thinking about the patient, but about their own perceived losses if the patient were gone. Sometimes the family will keep in their hearts that the patient might get better, even if all hope is gone. This hope is great for those who are curable and in minimal amount of pain, but for the pain-wracked terminally ill patients, this is no more than selfishness.
The patient in this situation would feel that they should have the right to decide their own fates. Not to sound cruel or violently, but the "orthodox" methods of suicide are rather messy and can be ineffective. Having a for-sure fatal and painless way to die would be the more desirable method. They may want the doctors to be the one to set up the machines for the medicine to flow, but more times than not, the patient had to press the button to administer the medication to kill them. The doctors had no part in making the final decision, so the patient really has their lives in their hands. The patient would think that it is ethically desirable to end their suffering rather than make them and the ones around them suffer the inevitable consequences.
A Personal Example
I suppose the best way to close this is to speak of someone, an actual human being. Perhaps we are done with the talk of ethics and morality, and we should be talking about the human being. It may paint a clearer picture for you.
We shall call him Greggory in respect for his family.
He was only twenty-five when he found out that he had AIDS. Though we have a cure for this today, there was no cure for the terrible disease when he contracted it in 1992. His disease wracked his body in ways no one in the family thought possible. He lost all but fifteen percent of his body fat in the first three years alone. He was terrified to eat or drink publicly for fear of spreading the disease. He was afraid of everything, of everyone. The sociable man became a recluse and all he thought about was that he was going to die.
That was the end of things then; you died from AIDS, there was no second chance.
When the end finally came around about a year later, he was stuck in a hospital bed. Attached to countless machines, he cried and cried. This man, this saxophone teacher in the rough side of town never cried. And what did he cry for? He wanted to end his pain and agony. He was of sound mind and could have made the decision to end his life through euthanasia, but there were no doctors to help him. The staff learned of his desires and they took away any potential lethal objects from the room. They checked all of the visitors so that they could not bring anything to aid his plight. They tied his skinny arms down so that he could not unplug the IVs from his arms and they kept a constant eye on him. They treated him like a criminal because he wanted to end his suffering and pain.
The doctors told him he had little more than two months to live one day. It was matter-of-fact, a statement that came easily to them. The doctors thought that he would be depressed about this. They were wrong- he was elated. He spent that little bit of time in the hospital, covered in bed sores from lying on his bones without fat to cushion him. He lay tied down, in terrible pain. Without release.
I ask you, how was this humane treatment of a human being?
He died a month sooner than we expected. It was on his birthday. His last few words were that death was the best present he could possibly get so that the pain would go away.