Should Physician-Assisted Suicide Be Legal?

Image Source: Hawaii Pacific Health

The legalization of Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) happens on the state-level, and is extremely controversial. According to CNN, it is currently legal in nine states, but the voting margins have been slim in many cases.

One arguing against the legalization of PAS might assert that it could place pressure on terminally ill patients to end their lives in fear of being a burden to the hospital or their family, resulting in patients opting to die without completely wanting to.

There are also other ways for patients to end their suffering without a medical professional having to prescribe medication, such as simply refusing care (which is already legal). Hospice is another option, which provides comfortable, palliative care for patients nearing the end of their lives, attending to their spiritual or emotional needs. Patients clearly have options to achieve their ends without compromising physicians along the way, so there should be no use for PAS legalization anyway.

Moreover, allowing PAS triggers the slippery slope towards the practice of euthanasia (which is illegal in most countries). With PAS, a physician would prescribe medication that would be available for the patient to take at a time of their choosing. With euthanasia, a physician would be taking direct action in ending their patient’s life, often through lethal injection.

However, the slippery slope argument here is a fallacy; this shifts the argument to hypotheticals without actually addressing the situation. With the right laws and training in place, PAS won’t turn into euthanasia. Doctors are trained to understand the sanctity of human life, and therefore should be able to draw the distinction between prescribing life-ending medication, and actively ending their patient’s life. Furthermore, Oregon was the first state to legalize PAS; according to an article written by The Hastings Center, in Oregon’s case, making PAS open and legal has made the practice “safer, more predictable, and relatively rare.” While in theory it may seem as though practicing PAS would lead to euthanasia, the opposite is happening in real life.

The way I see it, PAS is largely about two things: control and suffering.

Death is sacred and emotional and profound. Some may believe that the way they die is more important than when, and therefore want to be able to control their own way of death. Prolonging a patient’s death beyond the time they want it might cause them to lose the ability to control their own death if they are no longer of sound mind.

PAS also relieves suffering much quicker than hospice or refusing care, without causing more suffering. Refusing care could put the patient through more pain until the end of their life without necessary treatments or medications, while one could be suffering for months in hospice care. PAS provides quick and effective termination; for this reason, it is arguably the most humane of the three options.

Finally, the legalization of PAS would not force physicians who are morally opposed to it to do it; a doctor can always call upon a colleague if they do not feel morally comfortable to carry this action out. PAS gives patients the ability to control their own deaths and alleviate their suffering more effectively than alternative methods.

References:

Lagay, Faith. “Physician-Assisted Suicide: The Law and Professional Ethics.”
AMA Journal of Ethics, journalofethics.ama-assn.org/article/
physician-assisted-suicide-law-and-professional-ethics/2003–01. Accessed 19
June 2020.

O’Rourke, Mark A., et al. “Reasons to Reject Physician Assisted Suicide/
Physician Aid in Dying.” JCO Oncology Practice, 2017, ascopubs.org/doi/full/
10.1200/JOP.2017.021840. Accessed 19 June 2020.

Quill, Timothy E., and Bernard Sussman. “Physician Assisted Death.” The Hastings Center, www.thehastingscenter.org/briefingbook/
physician-assisted-death/. Accessed 19 June 2020.

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Rachel Hendrix

Rachel Hendrix

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