Autonomy in Death
Physician-assisted suicide is a controversial topic with only a few states having legalized it; however, many groups are advocating for its approval. Physician-assisted suicide has ethical limitations that only allow a doctor to prescribe, not administer, a lethal dose of medication for a patient who has been deemed terminally ill with less than six months to live by two physicians. The prescription allows the patient to choose both the timing and setting of death and the physician's only role is provision of medication. This gifts patients with autonomy in their death and relieves the doctor of any moral burden in participation with death keeping this action an ethical practice. Oregon was the first of few states to have legalized physician-assisted suicide but I would like to argue its potential advantages to the entire United States. Ball (2010) said, “In Oregon -- the one state in the U.S. where assisted suicide is legal – doctors are allowed to help only state residents who are expected to die within six months” (p.1). Giving terminally ill patients the power to choose a peaceful death demonstrates empathy toward the ill patients and their families. Terminally ill patients without this empowerment face the difficult choice of using limited resources to end their lives if not given the legal freedom to choose how and when they die. The Code of Ethics for Nurses provision 1.4 is the right to self-determination and it states that Respect for human dignity requires the recognition of specific patient rights, particularly, the right to self-determination. Self-determination, also known as autonomy, is the philosophical basis for informed consent in health care. Patients have the moral and legal right to determine what will be done with their own person; to be given accurate, complete, and understandable information in a manner that facilitates an informed judgment; to be assisted with weighing the benefits, burdens, and available options in their treatment; to accept, refuse, or terminate treatment without deceit, undue influence, duress, coercion, or penalty; and to be given necessary support throughout the decision-making and treatment process. Such support would include the opportunity to make decisions with family and significant others and the provision of advice and support from knowledgeable nurses and other health professionals. Patient should be involved in planning their own health care to the extent they are able to choose to participate (American nurses association, 2001, p.148). Giving this added right to chose physician assisted suicide allows patients the autonomy described in the Nursing Code of Ethics. The purpose of this paper is to argue that physician-assisted suicide is ethical and beneficial because it allows for patient autonomy. “I would argue that by denying terminally ill people recourse to death with dignity via physician prescribed medication, they are inflicting their own brand of coercion and abuse. The concept of a "merciful death" needs to be part of this discussion. It is a sad commentary that our society responds to our pets' terminal suffering more humanely than to our fellow human beings' end-of-life struggles”(“Death is best approached”, 2012, p. 1). Many feel that denying patients the right to choose is not advocating for their best interest and is a form of abuse. We wouldn't leave our ill family pet alive to suffer so why wouldn't we consider letting our loved ones put themselves out of their misery in a peaceful way? The entire point is to give the public a choice. It would still be up to each individual to decide whether or not to exercise that right if their physician deemed their situation appropriate. The Code of Ethics for Nurses says that “Respect for human dignity requires the recognition of specific patient rights, particularly, the right of self-determination” (American nurses association, 2001, p.148). This statement implies that the...
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