Physician Assisted Suicide

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Physician-Assisted Suicide

An estimated 40-70% of patients die in pain, another 50-60% die feeling short-of-breath. “The way I see it; our greatest prejudice is against death.  It spans age, gender and race.  We spend immeasurable amounts of energy fighting an event that will eventually triumph.  Though it is noble not to give in easily, the most alive people I’ve ever met are those who embrace their death.  They love, laugh and live more fully.” …by Andy Webster, Hospice Chaplain in Plymouth, Michigan.

Should Physician-Assisted suicide be legal? What do you think? Some believe that PAS demeans the human life – that PAS would violate doctors’ Hippocratic oaths. Many religions prohibit suicide and the intentional killings of others. Even though PAS would violate doctors' oaths, I believe physician-assisted suicide should be legalized. Vital organs could be saved and used allowing doctors to save the lives of others, people could die with dignity rather than endure tremendous pain and suffering, and the right to die should be a fundamental freedom of each person. Physician-assisted suicide is the voluntary termination of one's own life by administration of a lethal substance with the direct or indirect assistance of a physician (medicinenet.com). Physician-assisted suicide is often abbreviated PAS. In the U.S., only the States of Montana, Washington and Oregon allows physician-assisted suicide. Known as the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, in Oregon, competent terminally ill state residents, likely to die within 6 months can receive prescriptions for self-administered lethal medications from their physicians. This act does not permit euthanasia, in which a physician or other person directly administers a lethal dose of medication to the patient. A relatively very small number of people seek lethal drugs under the law and even fewer people actually used them. Many patients have said that what they want most is a choice about how their lives will end. First, physician-assisted suicide should be legalized because vital organs can be saved and used allowing doctors to save the lives of others. The number of patients on the waiting list for organ donation far exceeds the number of available donors. For example, in early September 2004, 86,000 people were on the waiting list for a transplant, while only 13,000 transplant operations had been performed since January of that same year. We have long waiting lists for hearts, kidneys, livers, and other organs that are necessary to save the lives of people who can be saved. Doctor-assisted suicide allows physicians to preserve vital organs that can be donated to others. However, if certain diseases are allowed to run their full course, the organs may weaken or cease to function altogether. Additionally, people could die with dignity rather than suffer tremendous pain and suffering. Improving the end of life and advocating for a “good death” has become the mission of several individuals and organizations, and is also a frequent subject of research and focus for policy improvements (Jennings B, Rundes T, D’Onofrio C). “…too many Americans die unnecessarily bad deaths—deaths with inadequate palliative support, inadequate compassion, and inadequate human presence and witness. Deaths preceded by a dying marked by fear, anxiety, loneliness, and isolation. Deaths that efface dignity and deny individual self-control and choice.” (Jennings B, Rundes T, D’Onofrio C)

Advocates working to improve care for dying patients have tried to determine what elements are necessary for a “good death” to take place. Publications on the subject include books and peer-reviewed journal articles that survey patients, health care professionals, and family caregivers. Common elements of a good death have been identified as adequate pain and symptom management avoiding a prolonged dying process, clear communication about decisions by...
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