The controversy surrounding physician assisted suicide has dominated the public court for long drawing and evoking varying emotions whenever it arises. Not to be confused with euthanasia, physician assisted suicide refers to the act by doctors to provide a lethal injection to a patient at his or her request with an intention of terminating the patients life. It is closely related to euthanasia only that euthanasia can be carried out by doctors with or without the request of the patient. The debate on legalization of physician assisted suicide and its ethical appropriateness has at one time cropped up in most countries.
It is always a sensitive topic to the policy makers and politicians thanks to the arguments and the counterarguments it attracts, pitting religious groups and the liberalists. Religious groups like the Catholic Church feel it is unethical and against God’s teachings and will. Liberalists believe it should be a personal choice and not to be left to the dictates of the politicians and religious fundamentalists. There are those too in the medical profession who see it as a grave violation of the professional requirements as vowed in the Hippocratic Oath.
The Hippocratic oath refers to the oath made by medical practitioners vowing not to carry out any prescription that would jeopardize the life of a patient whether or not it is at the patients requestor not. Doctors are supposed to abide by this oath. This is an oath that owes its history to the pre-medieval period and may not have foreseen the sort of challenges facing patients, doctors and other stakeholders in the health provision sector. This is a debate that has reigned much in the 20th century and it is the high time it is put to rest.
The position of this paper is that physician assisted death is an exercise of ones fundamental freedoms and allows a patient to die with dignity (Colesanto, 62). The activism towards legalizing physician assisted deaths dates back to the start of the 20th century. It is this period that would witness the rise and the formation of societies and organization whose intention was to agitate either for its legalization or for its complete legal prohibition. In spite of this decades’ long activism, in the United States for example, only the state of Oregon has legalized it.
Other countries in the world with a clear law on its legalization are Netherlands and Belgium, which passed the law in 2002. In Switzerland, physician assisted deaths are legal but there is a strict demand for certification and a clear establishment of such a need. These countries have provided inspiration to the rest of the world and soon there is likely to be increased activism towards the enactment of such laws. This will give patients faced with extreme choices to make one last important choice regarding their life, choosing to terminate their sufferings or to continue wallowing in a miasma of immense pain in the face of a sure death.
The much hullabaloo about the ethical acceptability of physician assisted suicide misses a very important point; it is neither moral nor immoral. It is a personal choice that should be given to every patient who certifies the minimum required conditions. What should be noted is that death under normal circumstances is never pleasurable, a decision to end life is made after hard considerations and in the knowledge that it is the only easy way out. Patients who make such hard choices are driven by the immense pain they are facing and with no respite in sight.
That is the key reason why it is the patient that makes the call rather than the doctor. Wear notes that in assisted suicide, “the patient acts the part. ” He further says that the choice to either take death or life in physically assisted suicide “rests fully with the patient in the sense that neither will take place without the patient’s desire” (87) This brings in an important point into the debate; choice. This is the key argument behind physician assisted deaths. They should be permitted in the respect of one fundamental freedom of making own choices regarding the direction of our lives especially faced with such insurmountable odds.
It is the final freedom of choice to be exercised. A look at terminally ill patients leaves one with pity and grief at the pain some of them go through. Although there has been tremendous efforts brought forth by technology seeking to improving the conditions and the lifespan of these patients, it is apparent that they go through a lot of suffering. There is no known medication that can ease such pain. One noted complication id the feeling of breathlessness and suffocation experienced by a lot of terminally ill patients in their death bed.
This is a complication that can not be alleviated through drugs and always leaves a patient with a feeling of helplessness. The bouts of pain that attacks such patients cannot be eased effectively through the use of medication. Patients have to brave through such suffering in the daunting knowledge that death is on the way. To such patients, it is without any doubt that death would be a welcome respite, and to know that they can have control of the hour that such a death would take place would be a great solace thanks to physician assisted death.
Most hospices offering palliative care are filled with people living their last moments on earth. They are people who have failed to receive any improvements from the normal process of medication and some of them are meant to receive comfort in their last days on earth. It is important to note that many are in a vegetative state and no amount of medication, care and therapy can bring them back to their active life. They hence become a burden to their loved ones and to the society in general.
Most of these, especially the aged are more than willing to die, they do not expect to hang on to life forever as John Hardwig notes, “to have reached the age of, say, seventy-five or eighty years without being ready to die is itself a moral failing, the sign of a life out of touch with life’s basic realities” (14) It goes without saying that anyone has reached such a point in time and is in a vegetative state requires a lot of attention from the spouse, family members and friends.
He has to receive constant visitations and comfort to re assure him or her during the last moments. This inability to fend for oneself and the feeling that one is a burden to family members is degrading in itself and given a choice, majority would prefer death to such loss of dignity. This is where the concept of dying with dignity comes in. Though those who take an economic approach to this debate are accused of being mundane and hedonistic, it is an important issue that has to be tackled.
Palliative care for terminally ill patients for example can be both financially and emotionally draining both to the patients and to the families’ savings. It is only a matter of time before the spouse or the family begins complaining of the huge bills and time that they commit to medication and care. Economics aside, this is usually an emotionally draining period, as Ackerman notes, “when this kind of care giving goes on for years, it leaves the care- giver exhausted, with no time for herself or life of her own”. 5) The amount of money spent during this period can eat up into the family’s savings and jeopardize the lives of those that are healthy. It has to be understood that the rest of the members have other obligations and plans such as bills and college fees. It is not prudent hence to continue paying for the care of a person who is willing to die rather than commit such funds to a more fulfilling venture with long term implications. In such a case, physician assisted suicide is the only way out. There is however lots of people who are opposed to physician assisted deaths.
They cite various reasons such as ethics and the importance of human life over money and that it is against their religious teachings. One major argument is that legalization of physician assisted death will result into a devaluation of life (Low 37). It is true that there has to be effective laws in place to regulate the useless taking of people’s lives, to ensure that people do not end other people’s lives just because they feel like. However, when it comes to terminally ill and suffering patients beyond any medical salvage, the issue of devaluation of life does not come into play.
They are suffering and death is fast coming, why not let them make that one important decision that will put a stop to their suffering? It is apparent that this debate has ranged on for long. Each time it is mentioned though, its benefits are more glaring than its disadvantages. It is an important way of easing the suffering of terminally ill patients by given them a chance to exercise their one final choice regarding their lives. This is a practice that eases both the patients’ and the family members’ economic and emotional strain.