Physician Assisted Suicide is one of the most debatable issues of our society today. Many disagree with this practice but others say that it is the only way of ending the agony of the patient. So if this issue is still argued, in what circumstance it becomes right? Physician Assisted Suicide is the killing, for reasons of mercy, of a person who is suffering from an incurable illness or hopeless injury. It is an ancient concept that has in the past been an acceptable practice in certain societies; for example, in ancient Greece. In modern times, however, it is generally considered murder by the law and also is most of the world’s organized religions (Baird, 2001). It consists of the withdrawal of, or the deliberate failure to initiate, life-sustaining treatment in hopeless initiate, life-sustaining treatment in hopeless cases. Instead of being kept alive for days or weeks through various kinds of machines and drugs, the patient is simply allowed to die.
a. Pros / Cons of Physician Assisted Suicide
The issue of death has become more complicated than it is used to be because of ethical conflict. The moral issue revolves around the preservation of human dignity in death even to the individual’s last breath. This issue has both its positive and negative sides.
The positive argument states that it aims to preserve human dignity until death. Not only does one have a duty to preserve life but one also has the right to die with dignity (Otlowski, 2001). To die with dignity means that one should be better than to go on living with an incurable and distressing sickness.
The negative argument, on the other hand, declares that it erodes human dignity because it means cowardliness in the face of pain and suffering. People who have faced the realities of life with courage die with dignity.
Whereas the positive side insists that mercy killing preserves human dignity, the negative side claims the opposite since the act hastens the death of an individual. Furthermore, others considers it to be morally wrong because it is intentional killing which opposes the natural moral law or the natural inclination to preserve life. They even argue that it may be performed for self-interest or other consequences. Also, doctors and other health care professionals may be tempted not to do their best to save the patient. They may resort not to do their best to save the patient (Keown, 2002). They may resort to it as an easy way out and simply disregard any other alternatives. They also believed that it is inhumane in so far as it allows a speedy end of suffering. Killing of any kind may be right or wrong depending on the motives and circumstances under which it takes place. If you help an agonizing, medically hopeless patient to die painlessly you will be doing him/her a favor and it would be wrong and inhuman to prolong the patient’s suffering needlessly.
b. What Physician Assisted Suicide is NOT
There is no Physician Assisted Suicide unless the death is intentionally caused by what was done or not done. Thus, some medical actions that are often labeled “passive euthanasia” are no Physician Assisted Suicide since they lack the intention to take life. These acts include not commencing treatment that would not provide a benefit to the patient; withdrawing treatment that has been shown to be ineffective, too burdensome or is unwanted; and the giving of high doses of painkillers that may endanger life, when they have been shown to be necessary. All those part of good practice, endorsed by law, when they are properly carried out.
c. Moral Evaluation on Physician Assisted Suicide
Physician Assisted Suicide in the strict sense is gravely illicit because it implies homicide. Therefore, no reason (like commiseration, humanitarianism or apparent piety) can justify the act of suppressing life. Man is not the absolute owner of his life.
The fundamental principle of natural law and Christian morality, over and above medical science and human endeavors, is the absolute respect for human life. “Anything that goes against life itself, e.g., homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, is evil and undermines human civilization, degrades those who practice it more than those who suffer from it. It is a grave offense against the honor of the Creator (Dowbiggin, 2003). The right to life is a fundamental human right. If an individual in the future were to be compelled by the social environment to abandon his life, human freedom would be greatly chiseled away. Besides, let us not forget that if some states have legislated regarding the inception of human life (Szasz, 1999); will they not feel tempted also to dispose of life, which has reached its final stage?
Moreover, Physician Assisted Suicide out of compassion is illicit. Some, however, have tried to justify and even legalize it. Regardless of sentiments or economic motives, its moral character remains the same.
Human life deserves absolute respect. Thus, it is always illicit. Compassion does not change the morality because what remains at issue is the direct suppression of human life. It is homicide. Besides, to consider some “compassionate” arguments is to open the floodgates to sinister opportunities: compassion may be utilized to justify the elimination of the feeble pressure by reason of public interest (with more or less basis) (Downing & Smoker, 2001). It may also invite the aged people to “freely” or spontaneously seek Physician Assisted Suicide.
Another social consequence of legalizing it is the patient’s loss of trust in the physician. A patient can consider a doctor a future assassin. Homicide by physician assisted suicide could be easily committed in order to hasten taking possession of an inheritance. Let us add the risks of error in diagnosis that could lead to physician assisted suicide, e.g., persons being considered “incurable” when they are in fact curable. The scientific and humanitarian endeavor in taking care of the insane would disappear (Szasz, 1999).Not only hospitals but also welfare institutes, homes for the aged, etc. would lose their physiognomy and become sinister establishments, dedicated to professionally and scientifically planned killing.
But the heart of the matter remains this: leaving it up to the physician to decide what is suffering and what is death. The goal of Medicine is to impede death and alleviate suffering through science and technology. The brutal solution to eliminate life is contrary to the very essence of a medical act.
In conclusion, people on both sides of the physician assisted suicide controversies claim membership in religious denominations. There are also individuals on both sides who claim no religious affiliation at all. But it’s even more important to realize that these are not religious issues, not should this be a religious debate.
Throughout all modern history, laws have prohibited mercy killing. The need for such laws has been, and should continue to be, debated on the basis of public policy. Everyone, of whatever religious belief, should have the right to be involved in that debate.
Moreover, suffering is surely a terrible thing, and we have a clear duty to comfort those in need and to ease their suffering when we can. But suffering is also a natural part of life with values for the individual and for others that we should not overlook. We may legitimately seek for others and for ourselves an easeful death. Physician assisted suicide; however, is not just an easeful death. It is a wrongful death. Physician assisted suicide is not just dying; it is killing.