Assisted Suicide

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What indeed is assisted suicide? Some may think it is just another word for euthanasia; however, there is actually a difference. Based on the basic Dictionary.com definition, euthanasia is “intentionally causing the death of a person; the motive being to benefit that person or protect him/her from further suffering,” while assisted suicide is “helping a person kill him or herself”. In other words, the main difference between this and euthanasia is that in assisted suicide the patient is in complete control of the process that leads to death because he/she is the person who performs the act of suicide. The other person simply helps (for example, providing the means for carrying out the action). The earliest of assisted suicides trace back to the late 1980s, with a man named Dr. Jack Kevorkian, aka “Dr. Death”. As a man deeply infatuated with the idea of death, he was the first man to attempt physician-assisted suicide, assisting in over 130 deaths. He firmly believed that dying was not a crime, and promoted a human’s right to choose what to do with his or her life. He wrote in his 1959 journal his controversial ideas, including: “I propose that a prisoner condemned to death by due process of law be allowed to submit, by his own free choice, to medical experimentation under complete anesthesia (at the time appointed for administering the penalty) as a form of execution in lieu of conventional methods prescribed by law”. In 1987, Dr. Kevorkian began advertising for death counseling, and performed his first assisted suicide in Michigan, (because laws in that state did not yet ban assisted suicide), on Janet Adkins, a 54-year-old woman diagnosed in 1989 with Alzheimer’s disease. However, due to laws that were created to ban this type of suicide, his medical license was eventually revoked, and later on throughout his life, was put on probation and had to swear never to perform assisted suicide again. Until the end of his life, Kevorkian never let go of his beliefs, and took his view on “right to die” to his grave (McLellan).

Kevorkian’s story brings up the legalities corresponding to assisted suicide. He magnified the question as to whether it was right or wrong to help someone terminate his or her own death. With this idea, the two opposing sides are brought into the spotlight: those who are for the right to die, and those who are not. Supporters of legislation legalizing assisted suicide claim that all persons have a moral right to choose freely what they will do with their lives as long as they inflict no harm on others. This right of free choice includes the right to end one’s life when we choose. For most people, the right to end one’s life is a right they can easily exercise; but there are many who want to die, but whose disease, handicap, or condition renders them unable to end their lives in a dignified manner. When such people ask for assistance in exercising their right to die, their wishes should be respected (Andre, Velasquez).

Many believe that providing pain medication to terminally ill or dying patients with the side effect of putting an ends to one’s life is not euthanasia or assisted suicide as long as it is to relieve the patient’s pain and suffering. The patient’s comfort must be the primary motive and goal. Health care professionals have an obligation to relieve pain and suffering and promote the dignity and autonomy of patients in their care. Many believe that it is necessary for a physician or nurse practitioner to prescribe a treatment that may hasten death for a dying patient, in order to adequately relieve a patient’s pain and suffering (Friedman).

As long as the intent and goal is to relieve pain and suffering and it is reasonable to believe that this level of medication is necessary to relieve/prevent distress in the dying patient, then it is “morally permissible” to administer the assisted suicide. Of course with this stance arises the question of how to...
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