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Assisted Suicide: Moral and Ethical Dilemma

Updated on June 4, 2009

Death or Self-Preservation

 Recently, there was a short clip on the Internet about a patient successfully ending life by a method called "assisted suicide". That story brought back a memory of a movie I saw several years ago where a man with AIDS decided to end his life surrounded by close friends and family, a decision to not waste away and suffer from the debilitating symptoms of the disease in the early 80's. It was a touching and emotional scene, and something I found unable to comprehend at the time.

Time has gone by and I now have thirty years of nursing under my belt. Caring for many patients who suffer from a wide spectrum of diseases, many ending up being terminal, many suffering from pain despite the use of pain pumps. I have witnessed the emotional trauma placed on the family and friends while awaiting the death of a loved one from terminal disease and I believe I understand why a person may decide to chose assisted suicide.

Assisted suicide provides a person an option to die in dignity and still preserve self autonomy. They may wish to avoid intractable prolonged pain or confined to a bed until natural death occurs. They wish to prevent not being aware of their surroundings or perhaps being alone in death.

There are laws defining the process of assisted suicide. Two physicians must certify the patient has a terminal illness with less than six months to live. The patient is not depressed or demonstrating impairment to awareness. The patient makes a formal request for assisted suicide which is witnessed by to persons not related to the patient. The patient will then have a waiting period to provide an appropriate time to revoke their decision.

Many say it is morally and ethically wrong to allow assisted suicide and therefore let the disease take its' course naturally. I believe it is wrong for others to judge a persons decision to end life because of religious or social morals. What we should do is make every effort to support the terminal patient and their decision to end life. The patient should be allowed to determine just how far they want to struggle with a terminal illness and at what point the "line is crossed" where pain and suffering can no longer be tolerated.



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