Many arguments are put forward by Leon R. Kass to continue criminalizing physician assisted-suicide, stating that it is wrong for a doctor to ever harm a patient, yet is the terminally ill patient quality of life worthwhile when they are is reduced by being feeble and in pain? Two ethical principles support ending prohibition: The right to control one’s own body and the physician’s duty to relieve suffering.
A lot of weight is placed on the Hippocratic Oath which states not to do harm. Kass asserts that allowing physicians to help with suicide would overstep their limitations and literally have a license to kill. This is both illogical and inciting. The author and bioethicist Dieterle argues that discontinuing life-sustaining systems is considered acceptable by society, yet this is a more definitive act by a physician than prescribing a medication that a patient has requested who can decide whether to take it or not, as he or she sees fit (Dieterle 129). Rather than characterizing physician-assisted suicide as murder, people should see it as bringing the dying process to a merciful end, or as Oregon calls it, “death with dignity.” Bioethicist and journalist, Boer, agrees that a physician who complies with a plea for final release from a patient facing death under unbearably painful conditions is doing the patient good, not harm, and “his or her actions are entirely consonant with the Hippocratic tradition” (Boer 530).
There is an argument made by Kass that that permitting physician-assisted suicide would undermine the patient-doctor relationship. This is flawed reasoning because patients are not lying in bed wondering if their physicians are going to kill them. “The lethal dosage is only prescribed on request of the patient and on no other terms” (Manning 5). Rather than undermining a patient’s trust, it should be expected that the legalization of physician-assisted suicide would enhance that trust. Many people feel that they would have a greater sense of security knowing they are able to trust their physicians to provide such help in the event of unbearable suffering.
It is also argued by Kass that it cannot be regulated in the sense that people with mental illness, comatose, or with depression will be able to get the prescription through proxy or when they are incompetent, but it is reported by Iwasaki that in every state which has legalized it, there have been strict regulations which requires at least a month and a competency hearing. Washington and Oregon have specified that assistance be given only to a patient who is competent and who requests it (Iwasaki 2). Therefore it has been shown that it can be regulated and it is not understandable that new states would not follow these standards.
A study carried out a few years ago by the University Of Washington School Of Medicine queried 828 physicians (a 25 percent sample of primary care physicians and all physicians in selected medical subspecialties) with a response rate of 57 percent. Of these respondents, 12 percent reported receiving one or more explicit requests for assisted suicide, and one-fourth of the patients requesting such assistance received prescriptions (Rogatz 12). A survey of physicians in San Francisco treating AIDS patients brought responses from half, and 53 percent of those respondents reported helping patients take their own lives by prescribing lethal doses of narcotics (Rogatz 13). Every state also does terminal sedation. Clearly, requests for assisted suicide can’t be dismissed as rare occurrences.
There is no perfect solution to this problem. However, there are reasonable protections which can minimize the risk of abuse and help the greater good of people. All physicians are bound by the oath not to do any harm, but we must recognize that it isn’t harmful only to hurt them, but to refuse an act of mercy. Thus, helping out people should be recognized as a humanitarian act, and not be considered criminal.
Boer, T A. “Recurring Themes in the Debate about Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide.” Journal of Religious Ethics 35.3 (2007): 529-555.
Dieterle, J M. “Physician Assisted Suicide: A New Look at the Arguments.” Bioethics 21.3 (2007): 127-139.
Georges, J, B. D. “Relatives’ Perspective on the Terminally Ill Patients who Died After Euthanasia or Physician-Assisted Suicide: A Retrospective Cross-Sectional Interview Study in the Netherlands.” Death Studies 31.1-15 (2007).
Iwasaki, J. “Oregon Assisted Suicide at Record High: Washington Discussing Rules for its New Law.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Jan. 2009). 13 Jan. 2009
Manning, M. “Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide: Killing or Caring?” Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
Rogatz, Peter. “The Virtues of Physician-Assisted Suicide.” Humanist (Nov.-Dec. 2001). 22 Jan. 2009