Physician Assisted Suicide
The role of a practicing medical doctor, or a physician, is defined by Mosby’s Dental Dictionary as a practitioner of medicine; one lawfully engaged in the practice of medicine. The essential word in this definition is lawful – physicians must act in a manner that is ethical to their practice and lawful to the country in which they are practicing.
In most countries, murder and suicide are unlawful; therefore for a doctor to commit such an act would be considered as crime. For this reason, I stand by my belief that doctors should only prescribe life terminating drugs in certain cases, which I will explain below. To help strengthen my argument, I will use facts and opinions given by philosophers James Rachels and John Paul ll. James Rachels, an American philosopher who specialized in ethics, authored an article titled Active and Passive Euthanasia, which describes the difference between two forms of euthanasia.
Active euthanasia is defined as a circumstance in which a doctor administers drugs into a patient’s body with intent to end their life. Passive euthanasia is when a doctor withdraws from giving their patient medical attention, knowing that without the care they will seize to survive. After reading Rachels’ article, I was able to differentiate between the two forms of physician assisted suicide, which essentially helped in my deliberation if it should be permissible.
Additionally, my argument is based upon the definition and viewpoint philosopher John Paul II’s gave of euthanasia in his article The Tragedy of Euthanasia. In his article euthanasia is described as “an action or omission which of itself and by intention causes death, with the purpose of eliminating all suffering. ” Paul stated that depending on the circumstances, this practice is malicious and can fall into the categories of suicide and murder (Paul 204).
Another key component to my argument is derived from John Arras’s three criteria for physicians assisted suicide. The three criteria are: that all request for eath be truly voluntary, all reasonable alternatives to PAS and active euthanasia must be explored before granting the request for death, and a system must be kept to record all cases of PAS in order to prevent abuse (Arras 232). Arras created these criteria with the hopes that it would prevent abuse of physicians assisted suicide and that is only acted on in appropriate circumstances. The two criteria which support my argument is voluntary action and that all other options have been explored. Like Arras, I believe there are a limited number of situations in which PAS should be an option.
From what I have gathered, I have determined my own personal opinion, which is that when physician assisted suicide is required and only when it is required, it should be completed as passive euthanasia. Situational details for my argument are as follows: Physicians assisted suicide should only be acted upon in extreme situations in which the patient has either 1. ) Been in a permanent vegetative state for at least six months, and the family has determined to seize treatment. In this circumstance, drugs should not be administered to illicit death.
Instead, all treatment should be ended. 2. ) Been given a short amount of time (less than a month) to live and wishes to pass away peacefully instead of suffering, the physician can end treatment. In no case should a drug be prescribed to end the patient’s life, but by the patient’s request the physician can administer pain killers or a numbing drug for the patient to exit peacefully. 3. ) has an ample amount of time to live, but still has the desire to exit life, the physician should offer alternatives to the patient – euthanasia not being one of them.
I have specifically identified the three situations above, because I feel only in these cases should the doctor seriously consider the option of PAS, or in the situation of option three, how to alternatively assist a patient who is seriously considering euthanasia. In the first case, I mention the doctor’s patient being in a permanent vegetative state – medically defined as patients who have an irreversible loss of brain damage who are left permanently unaware and extremely unlike to ever recover.
The vegetative state case is a vital circumstance in which the doctor should consider euthanasia, because these patients will most likely never function fully as human beings again, therefore never to lead a life worth living. The decision is only to be made by the family, guardian, or caregiver of the patient rather the doctor should end treatment to allow to patient to live. However, this should only be done after six months of complete inactivity of the patient, to secure there is no chance of revival.
If the family requests for their loved one to be kept alive after the six month, their wishes must be granted; the doctor shall have no say in the decision. In the case of a patient with a short amount of time to live (for example, if a disease was quickly eating and decomposing their body) and there was no cure that would keep them alive, doctors should also seize treatment if it’s is the patients wish to do so. If their wish is to be at peace for the remainder of their lifetime, the doctor should be admitted to prescribe painkillers or numbing medicines, in order to make the patient comfortable.
Still, even in this circumstance, the physician should not consider active euthanasia. To prescribe a patient with deadly drugs at this point their life, would be to take a life too soon. Actions such as this would be considered murder, which is unlawful for a human being and unethical for a practicing physician. I included the third case in my argument, a patient with an ample amount of life left with the wish to end it, because I assume this is a case physicians are faced with commonly.
A situation described in Timothy Quill’s article, Death and Dignity, pertains to this circumstance. One of Quill’s patients, a 45-year-old woman with Leukemia, has been under his care for years. One day she reached a point where her health had reached another decline, but instead of completing another round of chemotherapy, she wanted to enjoy the rest of the time she had with her family. After sometime, she requested sleeping pills from Quill, to exit life peacefully – he completed her prescription and within a matter of days she had taken her life.
I believe Quill was wrong for giving her the prescription – this is a form of active euthanasia, and more so, a case of murder. The end of her life was determined by herself and Quill, not by the natural course her life was supposed to take. Yes, she would have eventually died at some point due to her illness, however her actual death was premature. A doctor should not have the power to decide the course of someone’s life. When a physician is presented with circumstances similar to Quill’s, they should insist on helping their patient find alternative options.
This ties back into Arras’s three criteria – explore all alternatives to PAS before granting a patients wish to end their life. My justification for being completely against active euthanasia most likely stems from my strong sense of optimism. I believe life will lead its own course and should not be interrupted by others, but even more so I believe in a sense of hope and perseverance, and ultimately justice. When a patient decides to take his or her life and a doctor succumbs to the idea, the reality of the future for a patient is completely ignored.
If the patient has an option between life and death – the option chosen should always be life. In our society we look down at perfectly healthy people who commit suicide, and I feel these situations are no different. I also believe these situations should be looked at in term of justice. A physician, rather given permission or not, has no greater right than any other human being to take another’s life. However, I do understand that while I am emotionally tied to this issue, there are others who think more strategically and who may have objections to the points I have made.
The strongest objection I have discovered is that the fault should not be placed on the doctor, when the decision to end their life is the patients. They feel the doctor is not committing murder. I understand the logic behind this thought, however, I stand by the definition that I mentioned early in the essay – a physician is to act ethically and lawfully. More than any other duty of a physician, their job is to keep their patients healthy. In no way, does speeding up the process of death allow a patient to improve their health status.
I also respond to this objection by restating that a physician has no greater right than any other human being when it comes to ending a life. A physician who commits active euthanasia should be accused and tried just as any other human who kills another. I believe physician assisted suicide should be legalized but with strict restrictions to prevent abuse and unnecessary deaths committed by physicians. The restrictions should follow stern codes, which will be determined by the government and medical associations, in order to maintain a just and trustworthy health system.