Physician Assisted Suicide: A Debate
February 20, 2012
I. The Issue At Hand
a. What is the issue?
b. Why is there an ethical debate?
c. What are the stances being taken?
II. Theoretical Resolution
d. Utilitarianism, Deontology, or Virtue Ethics?
e. A Resolution?
III. Alternative Perspective
f. Relativism, Emotivism, or Ethical Egoism?
g. How do these ideas change the perspective?
IV. Personal Perspective
h. How do I look at the issue?
i. My arguments for my perspective
j. Tying it all together
According to the American Medical Association, physician-assisted suicide “occurs when a physician facilitates a patient’s death by providing the necessary means and/or information to enable the patient to perform the life-ending act” (American- Opinion). This is different than, and not to be confused with, a physician providing medication to relieve pain, knowing that the necessary increases in dosage and possible side-effect of the treatment could be death. Another situation that is not up for ethical debate is when a patient, or a patient’s family, chooses to refuse treatment when it’s decided that treatment brings more disadvantages than advantages, thus allowing a patient to die peacefully (American- Physician). Situations like these arise fairly often and a physician wouldn’t have to worry about making ethical decisions in either case. There are people, though, who are facing death due to terminal illness and these ones may ask their physician to provide them with the means to bring about their death sooner than nature would allow. These people know that there is no hope for a cure or for survival of their disease. This is where an ethical dilemma may arise. For many people (including many physicians) physician-assisted suicide sounds like a credible and preferred option since waiting for death to occur naturally could take months and bring a lot of pain and misery with it. Many people believe that this is a humane choice, especially in other countries where assisted suicide is not only legal, but there is widespread acceptance since quality of death is just as important as quantity of life (Friend, 2011). In the United States, though, the majority of the medical establishment sees assisted suicide as purely unethical- there is no place for it within the medical community.
Why does something that, on the surface, sounds like a loving and humane choice bring up so many ethical dilemmas? A terminal patient should be allowed to choose how he/she wants to die, and if assisted suicide is the choice, how can that be wrong? Are physicians bound by a code of ethics that emphatically denies them the choice to help a terminal patient die with dignity, on his/her terms? There are so many questions that are raised by this topic. The biggest issue is the fact that a physician’s role is one of healer (American- Opinion). Helping a patient end his/her life would redefine the role of the medical professional, possibly turning the medical profession on its ear, as it were. Another issue that is brought up is that providing the means to end one’s life shows a blatant disregard for the value and sanctity of human life. Finally, there is a religious component to this issue. Most religions oppose any kind of suicide, be it caused by mental illness or with the intent of hastening an already unavoidable death. Most religions uphold the sanctity of life, no matter what the medical situation of a person may be. From an ethical point of view, there are several ways to approach this topic. One point of view is that of Utilitarianism. The basic principal of Utilitarianism is that the choice should be the one that benefits the largest number of people (Mosser, 2010). In the case of physician-assisted suicide (PAS), the benefit would be to a relatively few people. The terminal patient and his/her loved...
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