Physician-Assisted Suicide: Is It Morally Permissible?

Topics: Euthanasia, Suicide, Suffering Pages: 5 (1780 words) Published: June 16, 2012

My essay topic is whether or not physician assisted suicide is morally permissible. I intend to argue that it is permissible because a competent patient ultimately has the right to choose for themselves the course of their life, including how it will end. To lie in a hospital bed in a vegetative state, unable to see, think, speak, eat, being totally unaware of your surroundings or those of your loved ones nearby speaks loudly of the pain and suffering at all levels for a terminally ill patient. Physician assisted suicide (PAS) is ethically justifiable in certain cases, most often those cases involving unrelenting suffering. While PAS is not legal in the United States, the Supreme Court has upheld individual states right to decide on the legality of it. The debate for PAS has been going for many centuries and the most common reason for the request of PAS were wanting to die in a dignified way, being in pain, being dependable on others for personal care, being tired of life and fearing future loss of control. PAS may be a rational choice for a person who is choosing to die to escape unbearable suffering and the physicians’ duty to alleviate suffering may, at times, justify the act of providing assistance with suicide. However, others have argued that PAS is unethical and runs directly counter to the traditional duty of the physician to preserve life. Furthermore, many argue if PAS were legal, abuses would take place.


THE FIRST ARGUMENT BEGINS BY ASSERTING THAT a patient’s autonomy must be respected. Individuals should be able to control the time and circumstances of their own deaths. PAS is the act of a licensed physician providing medication or other assistance to a patient knowing that the patient will be using medications of information to end their life. The physician is counselor and witness and makes the means available, but ultimately the patient must be the one to act or not act. Since, autonomous choice is directed to the patient and not the physician, PAS is an individual’s choice and should be legalized.

THE SECOND ARGUMENT BEGINS BY ASSERTING THAT justice is necessary and that we “treat like cases alike.” New York’s ban on assisted suicide violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals views “the ending of life by the withdrawal of life-sustaining systems is nothing more nor less than assisted suicide.” Competent terminally ill patients are allowed to hasten death by treatment refusal. For some patients, treatment refusal will not suffice to hasten death; the only option is suicide. Justice requires that we should allow assisted death for these patients. As opposed to refusal of treatment, a suffering patient may require dosages of pain medication that impair respiration or have other effects that may hasten death. It is generally held by most professional societies and supported in court decisions that this is justifiable so long as the primary intent is to relieve suffering. Terminal sedation is covert PAS. Therefore, PAS should be legalized.

THE THIRD ARGUMENT BEGINS BY ASSERTING THAT refusing PAS is cruel and we must be compassionate to certain cases. Suffering means more than pain; there are other physical and psychological burdens. It is not always possible to relieve suffering. Thus PAS may be a compassionate response to unbearable suffering. Prolonging life under extreme conditions is cruel and unnecessary. The Hippocratic Oath enjoins physicians to act solely for the good of the sick. In certain rare cases, modern medical care is not able to ease the physical and mental suffering of a terminally ill patient and the doctor may be doing more harm by keeping the patient alive against his or her wishes than by helping him to die.

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