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Physician Assisted Suicide: Principles and Arguments Research Paper

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Updated: Jun 20th, 2020

The issue of Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) is controversial in both the United States and the rest of the world. Consequently, PAS has prompted a big debate in the country. The PAS debate encompasses citizens, government officials, politicians, and medical practitioners among others. Those who support PAS argue that it is a patient’s right to end his/her “suffering with a quick, dignified, and compassionate death” (Beauchamp & Childress, 2009).

Proponents of PAS also argue that the constitution should grant individuals the right to PAS in the same way it provides the right to abortion, marriage, refusal of life-saving treatment, and procreation. On the other hand, opponents of PAS are of the view that doctors’ only job should be to keep patients alive by any means necessary. According to opponents of PAS, the Hippocratic Oath that is taken by doctors prevents their involvement in PAS. In addition, suffering is a component of human existence. Consequently, there is no amount of suffering that justifies PAS. This paper argues against the merits of PAS as a tool for ending human suffering.

The most commonly used argument against PAS is the premise that doctors are supposed to ‘fix’ patients and not to ‘terminate’ them. The principle that is covered by the Hippocratic Oath bears the ancient Greek concept of ‘nonmaleficence’. This concept originates from a statement by a Greek physician. The physician (Hippocrates) states that “I (healthcare provider) will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment, but I will never use it to injure or wrong them” (Beauchamp & Childress, 2009).

Consequently, the Hippocratic Oath requires physicians and other healthcare providers to do no harm to patients. Therefore, administering PAS goes against the core principle of modern medicine. For instance, someone who has taken an oath to do no harm cannot justify the killing of another human being. Proponents of PAS argue that the right to live is a prerogative of a patient. However, assisting a patient who is in any state of health to terminate his/her life contradicts a physician’s ethical declarations (Gannon & Garland, 2008).

Accepting PAS could lead to cases of involuntary euthanasia. It is important to note that PAS is only a small step towards bigger implications. Therefore, acceptance of PAS might act as the genesis of bigger things to come. Physicians and other medical stakeholders feel that PAS could open doors to a chain of events that might be difficult to contain. Supporters of PAS argue that the claims about misuse of PAS are exaggerated.

However, research has found that the fear about PAS being misused is founded. For instance, a study that was conducted in the Netherlands found that “roughly 1,000 patients die due to the result of an end-of-life decision made without their explicit consent” (Dieterle, 2007). Therefore, the only way to make sure that lives are not ended prematurely is to do away with PAS entirely.

Physicians have a lot of influence when it comes to patients’ decision-making abilities. Consequently, the concern that some people might be duped into PAS is very real. PAS could provide interested parties with a chance to coerce patients into making life-ending choices. For example, when most people are in pain, they are disoriented and they are not in a position to make sound decisions. Therefore, most PAS decisions can be influenced by third parties. This hypothesis gives insurance companies and estranged family members the chance to coerce patients towards accepting PAS.

Moreover, some sections of the population with special needs might find themselves becoming victims of coercion in respect to PAS. Some of the “vulnerable populations where PAS is concerned include the elderly, disabled persons, minorities, and the poor people” (Dieterle, 2007). Most of the people in these categories lack both information and the ability to defend themselves in events of victimization. Like with other laws and legislations, it is possible for PAS to be abused by some stakeholders.

PAS might be used by some individuals as an ‘easy way out’. Some patients do not have the will to fight and regain their health. Therefore, the availability of the PAS option might prompt some patients to end their lives unnecessarily. It is also important to note that sickness makes individuals hopeless and vulnerable.

Proponents of PAS argue that patients who seek PAS are not hopeless but they are determined. However, this argument is nullified by mere observation. Giving the PAS option to a hopeless and vulnerable individual is an irresponsible and ill-conceived idea. Furthermore, “PAS gives people the impression that it is okay to quit when life becomes difficult” (Gannon & Garland, 2008). The efforts that are put towards the institution of PAS should be directed towards palliative care.

There are various arguments that prove that the idea of PAS is not practical in modern medicine. PAS contravenes both ethical and legal institutions. The proponents of PAS forward arguments that are self-defeating and inadequate. Consequently, the practice of PAS has no place in modern medicine. Instead of concentrating on PAS, other life affirming practices should be pursued.

References

Beauchamp,T. L. & Childress, J. F. (2009). Principles of biomedical ethics. New York: Oxford University Press.

Dieterle, J. (2007). Physician assisted suicide: A new look at the arguments. Bioethics, 21(3), 127-139.

Gannon, C., & Garland, E. (2008). Legalisation of euthanasia and assisted suicide: A professional’s view. International Journal of Palliative Nursing, 14(3), 127-131.

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