Moral Dilemma - Physician Assisted Suicide

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  • Topic: Death, Euthanasia, Oregon Death with Dignity Act
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A Moral Dilemma for Physician Assisted Suicide

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January 30, 2012

Abstract

In order to relieve suffering for those with terminal illness, physician assisted suicide should be legalized for competent persons to allow for autonomy in making end of life decisions. In order to reduce or relieve suffering of animals, medically assisted death is a perfectly acceptable practice today. But when it comes to people diagnosed with untreatable and deadly diseases, they are not afforded the same painless luxury. They are at the mercy of their disease and a medical community that fails to recognize a life without dignity is no life at all.

Physician Assisted Suicide has been legal in the state of Oregon since 1998. The Death with Dignity Act allows Oregon residents who are terminally ill with less than a six month life expectancy to end their lives voluntarily by requesting lethal medications prescribed by a physician. In accordance with the act, a patient must be diagnosed by two separate physicians as being terminally ill, be mentally competent, and serve a 15 day waiting period.

When competent terminally ill persons are given the option of physician assisted suicide, they are given control of how much suffering they have to endure. They would be afforded the opportunity to make their personal decisions and arrangements without intervention in their care and comfort at the end of their life.

Keywords: Physician Assisted Suicide, PAS, Death with Dignity Act

Introduction

The right to end one’s life on one’s terms is a controversial and emotional dilemma. It is difficult to understand why we have enough compassion to use the practice of physician assisted suicide (PAS) to ensure that our pets do not incur undue suffering, yet we do not hold the same concern for members of our own species. The right to life does not mean the right to suffer needlessly from an incurable disease. The states of Oregon, Washington and Montana have addressed this issue legally in an effort to change this manner of thinking. Unfortunately, these are the only states in which the practice is legal and regulated. I feel that in order to relieve suffering for those with terminal illness, more states should consider legalizing physician assisted suicide for competent persons to allow for autonomy in making end of life decisions.

The arguments

In order to reduce or relieve suffering of animals, medically assisted death is a perfectly acceptable practice today. But when it comes to people diagnosed with untreatable and deadly diseases, they are not afforded the same painless luxury. They are at the mercy of their disease and a medical community that fails to recognize a life without dignity is no life at all. Opponents of the practice express views that a physician prescribing lethal doses of narcotics are inconsistent to their purpose of healing the sick (Gill, 2005). If the sick cannot be healed, if a person has an illness that cannot be cured, then what is the role of the physician in that person’s life? Shouldn’t it be to reduce that person’s agony and to make them as comfortable as possible given the untenable circumstances?

This is the question that was posed to voters in the state of Oregon. Physician Assisted Suicide has been legal in Oregon since 1997. The Death with Dignity Act allows Oregon residents who are terminally ill with less than a six month life expectancy to end their lives voluntarily by requesting lethal medications prescribed by a physician. A patient making the request must provide two oral requests of a willing physician and one written request. There is a 15 day waiting period after the first oral request. Once the written request is made, there is a 48 hour waiting period before the prescription is written to the patient. In accordance with the...
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