Lack of identity, disconnection, anxiety about the future, fear of becoming a responsibility to others, and persistent bodily and non-physical ailments, all contribute to suffering especially towards the end of life. Many origins of suffering can be addressed and alleviated with excellent medical treatment, notably state-of-the-art healthcare services. Patients do, occasionally, seek the help of a clinician to end their lives. Physician-Assisted Suicide (PAS) is described as a physician writing a recommendation for a deadly quantity of drugs that the individual can self-administer through ingesting with the intentional goal of ending life at the patient’s request (Minerva & Sandberg, 2017). Although PAS has not been part of normal medical practice in the past, it has been an open and intentional practice in many legal jurisdictions within the U.S in recent decades. (Fontalis et al., 2018). From the technical aspects of PAS, several policy debates have emerged on the morality of this practice, leading to diverse opinions.
PAS has now become a common practice in the 21st century. While evaluating its legal and moral positions, it is crucial to understand its technical aspects to make an informed decision. One of the vital elements to consider in this case is patient discretion and informed consent. Fontalis et al. (2018) comment that informed consent as a technical feature of PAS has evolved from the criticism received after the various Tuskegee experiments. While physicians had the liberty to conduct experiments on human subjects, sometimes leading to death, medical practitioners and various advocates disputed the legal and moral positions of the practice. Informed consent was developed to ensure that patients are well-informed of the consequences of their actions. Therefore, informed consent is defined as a patient’s authorization for a medical procedure having all the information necessary and the mental capacity to make a decision (Stoller, 2018). This implies that patients allow and, in many cases, request physicians’ assistance in ending their lives.
The physician’s moral and legal positions are also technical aspects surrounding PAS. Although a clinician is required to facilitate a patient’s health and preserve their lives, they are morally expected to follow a patient’s request for as long as it fulfills informed consent. According to Stoller (2018), pain and hopelessness are the most significant contributors to PAS. While some terminally ill patients wait to see their mental health deteriorate, others prefer to end their suffering when they have the mental capacity to make logical decisions. In such a case, a physician is required to abide by their moral code of ethics and assist the patient since their role is to reduce patient suffering.
The physician’s knowledge of the patient’s intention is another significant factor, especially in regions where PAS is not legalized. Sometimes, the patient may request a prescription without giving a clear indication of their intention to end their lives. This may be due to the fear that they may be denied the medication, continue suffering, or be subjected to some legal prosecution. To save themselves and the physicians from lawful accusations, patients ask for a drug meant to treat a certain condition, then use it inappropriately to terminate their lives. This case calls for physician discretion to discern a patient’s motive and act accordingly. Stoller (2018) denotes leadership in healthcare as the ability to make logical conclusions to preserve a patient’s life while abiding by medical practice obligations. Essentially euthanasia is characterized by the patient’s knowledge of the situation and informed consent, and the physician’s understanding of the process.
Policy Debates Surrounding PAS
As Euthanasia and PAS gain more popularity globally, people have developed different viewpoints spanning the legal, moral, and religious implications of the practice. Divergent, but equally firmly held and well-considered viewpoints on PAS exist among the public and medical practitioners. Nonetheless, palliative care is founded on the premise that every individual should come to the terminal phase as painlessly as possible. However, the argument that PAS does not serve the patient’s innermost self-defining values is at the heart of public and medical discussion concerning assisted dying (Minerva & Sandberg, 2017). Proponents and opponents retain a core commitment to principles of care, empathy, respect, and decency; yet, they draw differing moral inferences in good conscience from those underlying ideals.
Arguments for PAS
The utilitarian theory provides a framework on which to view the arguments for PAS. According to Dintcho (2020), utilitarianism is founded on finding a balance between the positive and negative consequences by ensuring that individuals get the most benefits out of a situation or procedure. Many proponents of medically-assisted dying have quoted the utilitarian theory to show that PAS is not only ethical but also necessary. Notwithstanding the finest palliative care, medical specialists who favor assisted dying believe that some terminally ill patients will submit a reasoned request for PAS (Minerva & Sandberg, 2017). Technologically advanced palliative care may substantially lessen terminal suffering, but it does not often provide complete alleviation of painful symptoms, and such patients are more likely to desire assisted dying. Since the goal is to ensure that patients enjoy high-quality lives, forcing them to live in the experience of pain is unethical.
In arguing for the legalization of euthanasia, the quality of life becomes an important factor. Many professionals argue that as a person’s health deteriorates, the quality of life diminishes and their body organs lose functionality (Dintcho, 2020). Utilitarian principles hold that maximum benefits should be directed to the largest group of people in society. In this case, if terminally-ill patients request PAS, they could donate their organs to needy people in the community, thereby leading to more healthy lives. Another point linking to this benefit is the cost control in medical services. Proponents feel that ending suffering, especially for terminally-ill patients may cut treatment costs, thereby lessening the burden on family and the government (Fontalis et al., 2018). Essentially, since patients requesting PAS have the mental capacity to discern their conditions and make a sound decision, it would be unethical to prevent them from deciding when and how to die.
Arguments against PAS
Religious beliefs have been cited as the most significant reasons given against PAS. When euthanasia is interpreted literally as ending someone’s life, religious perspectives hold that no individual should end another’s life. From a medical point of view, Stoller (2018) argues that the role of palliative care is to facilitate healthy lives as opposed to ending them. In addition, people’s understanding of the quality of life would be significantly lowered by legalizing euthanasia. This would lead to more deaths among the aged and terminally-ill patients. According to Fontalis et al. (2018), if more focus is given on technological solutions for improved medical care, the PAS debate would become irrelevant. Lastly, medical diagnoses have been found to be inaccurate in the past. Many individuals who were told they had a few days to live have recovered and improved many people’s living standards. From this standpoint, legalizing euthanasia would contribute to the loss of many individuals who would, otherwise, be vital for social development.
Life is influenced by multiple actors, from which people derive different understandings regarding the meaning and quality of life. In the 21st century, people’s technological innovations have contributed to improved quality of life. Knowledge has also increased and therefore, anyone requesting PAS is fully aware of the implications. In my opinion, euthanasia should be legalized because it relieves patients from suffering, cuts medical costs, and may help others through organ donation. Since many states have allowed patients to choose the type of medical care they prefer, including refusing some prescriptions, they should also be allowed to decide when and how to terminate their lives. Although palliative care is guided by the need to sustain patients’ lives, medical practitioners can deviate from the law and use their judgment to find the best solution for their patients.
In conclusion, PAS has been an ongoing debate in global medical practice. The distinction between passive and active euthanasia has been used to derive the legal and moral implications of the practice. Although only a few states have legalized PAS, medical aid in life termination has been ongoing at various levels. Proponents apply the utilitarian view to demonstrate that PAS benefits not only individual patients but also the entire society. Opponents feel that legalizing PAS goes against the codes of conduct of medical practice and crosses the lines of religious beliefs by lowering the quality of life. In essence, every patient has the right to understand their health conditions and make an informed decision on when and how to die.
Dintcho, A. D. (2020). Should active euthanasia be morally and legally permissible? Sound decisions: an undergraduate bioethics journal, 5(1), 1. Web.
Fontalis, A., Prousali, E., & Kulkarni, K. (2018). Euthanasia and assisted dying: what is the current position, and what are the key arguments informing the debate? Journal of the royal society of medicine, 111(11), 407-413. Web.
Minerva, F., & Sandberg, A. (2017). Euthanasia and cryothanasia. Bioethics, 31(7), 526-533. Web.
Stoller, J. K. (2018). Developing physician leaders: a perspective on the rationale, current experience, and needs. Chest, 154(1), 16-20. Web.