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In recent years, legislators and ethicists have aggressively debated over the legalization of assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. In the United States, five states have legalized physician-assisted suicide, and the legislators of 20 other states are currently considering some form of physician-assisted suicide legislation (Castro, Antunes, Marcon, Andrade, Ruckl, & Andrade, 356). The proponents of this practice argue that they support "aid in dying" or "death with dignity" rather than suicide. They appeal to three principal claims that (1) assisted suicide should be legalized to respect people's self-determination, (2) it should be legalized to allow terminally ill patients to obtain relief from suffering, and (3) it should be legalized to minimize the damaging financial impact of hospital care on families. However, opponents claim that assisted suicide would undermine the role of the physician, it is immoral and against religion. Thus, this paper argues that assisted suicide may be legalized, provided it is regulated in a way that exemplifies the three primary claims made by its proponents.
Assisted Suicide should be Legal
Today, medical technology has attained astounding strokes in prolonging the lives of human beings. For the patients with a realistic chance of surviving an accident or an illness, medical technology is science's greatest gift to man. However, for the terminally ill, it is just a means to prolonged agony. The sole thing medical technology does for a dying patient is to give him or her more pain and suffering day after day. Therefore, physician-assisted suicide should be legalized to enable terminally ill patients to obtain relief from this pain and agony caused by an illness that no drug can cure (Steck, 615). Also, assisted suicide should be legalized to respect individuals' self-determination. However, to ensure that assisted suicide is practiced in a way that respects people's self-determination, it must be restricted to cases that are indisputably voluntary (Pereira, 2).
Similarly, a dying individual's physical agony can be almost unbearable to his or her immediate family. In addition to the failure of the medical technology to save the loved-one, it has a high price attached to it. The cost of medical care is too high for the terminally ill patient's family and a competent dying individual has some of this. Of course, families do not consider the cost while the terminally ill relative is still alive. However, when he or she passes away, the families have to struggle with the huge hospital bill and are often subject to financial debt and ruin. Most terminally ill patients desire their death to be peaceful and with bountiful consolation. According to Ronald Dworkin (nd), the author of Life's Dominion, "many people desire to save their relatives the expense of keeping them pointlessly alive." Thus, to leave their families in financial ruin is certainly not a form of consolation. Nevertheless, the regulatory condition of indisputably voluntary must still be upheld for the patient to qualify for assisted suicide.
However, opponents to the legalization of assisted suicide argue that the legalization would represent an inappropriate expansion of the role of physicians. According to Pratt (3), one opponent, bioethicist Daniel Callahan asserts that the role of physicians should be restricted to "the promotion and preservation of health" and that physicians should not enter "the boundless realm of general human happiness and well-being." According to the explanation by Callahan, patients who request for assisted suicide do so because they perceive their life to have no value. Thus, since claims about the value of life cannot be clinically evaluated, physicians should not be expected to prescribe lethal medication based on such claims (Pratt, 4). Notwithstanding, Callahan's claim is overly restrictive. The treatment of pain should unquestionably be included within the role of physicians, even though the treatment is not necessarily related to the promotion and preservation of health. Moreover, there is no innate reason why physicians should not promote "general human happiness and well-being" if they have the skills and resources to do so.
Additionally, opponents argue that assisted suicide is inherently immoral because people have a negative duty to not kill (Anderson, 3). This duty might be based on the belief that life has innate value or on the belief that only God should have the power over giving and taking life. However, these beliefs do not offer sufficient justification for a legal prohibition. Immorality does not necessarily mean that something should be made illegal (Pratt, 3). Moreover, arguing that some action should be illegal only because of the immorality of the act is unjustifiably paternalistic.
To conclude, it is clear that all that a terminal illness brings is pain and suffering, and not only to the patient but to the family too. Moreover, the only thing medical technology does for a dying patient is to give him or her more pain and suffering day after day. Also, this additional suffering comes at a high cost, which the family has to bear once the loved-one passes away. Ethicists may argue that assisted suicide would represent an inappropriate expansion of the role of physicians or is immoral, but the treatment of pain should unquestionably be included within the role of physicians, even though the treatment is not necessarily related to the promotion and preservation of health. Also, immorality does not necessarily mean that something so noble as relieving a terminally ill patient from suffering should be made illegal. Therefore, assisted suicide should be legal for terminally ill patients but the regulatory condition of indisputably voluntary must be upheld for the patient to qualify for assisted suicide.
Anderson, Ryan T. "Always Care, Never Kill: How Physician-Assisted Suicide Endangers the Weak, Corrupts Medicine, Compromises the Family, and Violates Human Dignity and Equali." (2015).
Castro, M. P. R. D., Antunes, G. C., Marcon, L. M. P., Andrade, L. S., Ruckl, S., & Andrade, V. L. A. (2016). Euthanasia and assisted suicide in western countries: a systematic review. Revista Bioetica, 24(2), 355-367.
Dworkin, Ronald. Life's Dominion. New York: Knopf, 1993.
Pereira, Jose. "Legalizing euthanasia or assisted suicide: the illusion of safeguards and controls." Current Oncology 18.2 (2011): e38.
Pratt, Elias. "The Legalization of Physician-Assisted Suicide." Aporia 27.1-2017.
Steck, Nicole, et al. "Suicide assisted by right-to-die associations: a population based cohort study." International journal of epidemiology 43.2 (2014): 614-622.
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