The Media’s Treatment of Physician-Assisted Suicide
As with many legal issues that transcend religious, moral, and political beliefs, differences among opinion are expected and nearly unavoidable in the media. Physician-assisted suicide is one such issue where opinions are significantly polarized and, at times, dogmatic. Physician-assisted suicide is suicide facilitated by a physician through the administration of a prescribed lethal dose of medication. This debate has been a legal battle since 1997 when Oregon first allowed licensed physicians to give lethal doses of medications to terminally ill patients who choose death over intolerable suffering. Since then, Montana and Washington state have legalized physician-assisted suicide while Massachusetts, Florida, and many other eastern states have deemed the practice illegal. What is at stake with physician-assisted suicide in the media is certainly not static because of the wide range of publications. Some publications choose to focus on end-of-life care and how our nation should be putting forth efforts and investments to improve patients’ lives rather than ending them. There is also an assortment of media outlets that invoke Marx’s conflict theory and the fear of possible coercion of the terminally ill patients due to pressure of burdened family members and physicians. Lastly, various other media sources center their articles around the legal aspects facing the prosecution of physicians themselves. How the media mold their articles based on these separate themes undoubtedly sheds light on their philosophical positions and the audience they are attempting to target. News articles found in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and The Daily Inter Lake from Northern Montana framed their writing around the implications of health care and end-of-life care regarding physician-assisted suicide. Many of the arguments raised by state legislators and patients revolve around improving our end-of-life care rather than ending peoples’ lives without another, possibly better, option. Kirk Johnson’s article in The New York Times raises the issue that before giving people the option for physician-assisted suicide, everyone should have equal access to health care. In rural areas of Montana where hospitals are miles away, accessibility is a serious problem. One Democratic state legislator in Montana stated that, “It is not simply whether everyone has a right to choose; it’s whether they are given all the choices” (2009, para. 23). Opponents argue that the State Constitution of Montana was written in 1972 during a “privacy-rights movement” which certainly resonates throughout the language of their constitution, and evidence of legal precedent taking action and having an effect on case rulings. The Montana Supreme Court tends to keep individual autonomy and dignity in the forefront of their minds when it comes to these debates. Physician-assisted suicide, however, is still seen as an issue that crosses many value systems because of its domestic nature. This argument is seen again in The Boston Globe as well as in The Daily Inter Lake. In The Boston Globe, a ballot initiative in Massachusetts is the focal point of a recent news article that had the potential to legalize physician-assisted suicide, but was rejected by a few votes. Rosanne Meade, chairwoman of Committee Against Assisted Suicide, says that the idea of physician-assisted suicide is a “flawed approach to end-of-life care” (2012, para. 3). The defeat of this proposed bill had others breathing a sigh of relief as well including a leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Massachusetts, Cardinal Sean O’Malley. His hope for the future is that our society is able to give terminally ill patients more than just a way to end their lives. The opposing views to this argument are barely noted in this article as there is no mention of specific groups or people who are supporters of...
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