Imagine a loved one diagnosed with a fatal disease; in most cases, they will have unbearable pains thrust upon them. Tragically, they will be forced to suffer in agony during their last few weeks or months of life. Yet, what if this pain could be avoided? What if they could choose to end the torment and seek a dignified way to find peace? One such option is physician-assisted suicide. Through physician-assisted suicide, a terminally ill patient could, by their own choice and actions, end their life and suffering with the aid of a doctor. Unfortunately, in many cases, the government tries to prevent such treatment from being administered. However, the option for assisted suicide should not be cast aside as it is a practical and ethical means of treating a patient suffering from a terminally ill disease.
In 1935, the Euthanasia Society of America was founded, and with its establishment came the beginning of proactive care towards end-of-life treatment. The group, later known as Choice in Dying, took initiative in informing the public about living wills and granting access to superior end-of-life health care (“Suicide, Euthanasia”). Today, the debate over assisted suicide is still current and the interest in such organizations and the idea of the rights of the dying has since spread and become a controversial issue.
Already, people accept that decisions of the body are to be determined by the individual. Today, one can create a living will indicating the type of health care treatment they wish to receive if their health is ever at a critical condition. The option to have life support or not is currently accepted as the choice of the person. “If people can choose death in this passive way, why shouldn’t they be allowed to choose it more actively?” (“Assisted Suicide”). The principle ideas behind the two actions are one and the same. It is their body and it is their choice.
Most famously known for promoting the practice is Dr. Jack Kevorkian, also known as “Dr. Death”. His passion for helping others and his support for end-of-life choices led him to develop a machine known as the Mercitron. The machine injects lethal drugs and pain killers into the patient after they push a button. By utilizing this machine, Kevorkian was able to assist in over 100 suicides. In 1998, he performed euthanasia on a man with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. In this instance, Kevorkian himself injected the lethal drugs into the individual due to his inability to perform the suicide by himself. He was then later convicted for murder (“Suicide, Euthanasia”; “Assisted Suicide”). Kevorkian’s imprisonment caused even more controversy and widespread debate.
Many who oppose assisted suicide believe that it is immoral and unethical to advocate death as a means of helping a patient. “I am opposed to euthanasia in all its forms … I, as a Christian, believe the Creator God is demonstrably opposed to it, making no provision for it” are ideas shared by many who go against the practice (Glover). This would mean that the patient seeking relief would be forced to live because others believe that their ideals and morals take precedence. As philosopher Grayling, founder of the New College of the Humanities points out, “It is not mere quantity of life that matters, but its quality” (Grayling). Why should a loved one be forced to unnecessarily suffer more for the simple sake of satisfying another’s conscience? This is exemplified as many people euthanize their pets to end their suffering. By acknowledging that it is okay to end the suffering of pets through death, how can one not regard the same ideology to humans?
Still, people believe that “The more difficult but humane solution to human suffering is to address the problem, not get rid of the human” (Glover). Yet, critics such as Glover fail to see that patients seeking assisted suicide while terminally ill are doing so because the pain they feel already has been addressed to no avail. Despite the advanced medical care of today, physical pain cannot always simply be fixed with more morphine as one would wish. Therefore, when one states that the problem needs to be addressed, they fail to see that it can be addressed no further.
In 1994, Oregon recognized the value and importance of assisted suicide and became one of two states to legalize it with its Death with Dignity Act (“Assisted Suicide”). While many opponents argue that there will come about many misuses and vulnerable peoples from the legalization of this practice, the state of Oregon has proved many of such speculations wrong. Oregon has managed to show that the implementation of such a law can actually benefit many. To even qualify for assisted suicide, a rigorous examination of the patient by a physician must be completed. The individual must be mentally capable, terminally ill, an Oregon resident, informed of alternative healthcare options, voluntarily request aid, and be properly documented and witnessed. Based on a report from 2000, less than 20% of the requests for assisted suicide were granted (Tucker). Therefore, any fears that hospitals will suddenly use death as a means of treating every patient can be disregarded. It is clear that carefully drafted laws and regulations can make sure that only those who truly need assisted suicide will receive it.
Other fears, including the idea of certain populations being targeted, have also been disproved. Indeed “the option of physician-assisted dying has not been unwillingly forced upon those who are poor, uneducated, uninsured, or otherwise disadvantaged” (Tucker). Statistics from Oregon show instead that 100% of patients granted assistance received private health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid, while additionally 92% were in hospice. These results clearly show again that there is no misuse of the act in place, and likely will not be. In addition, of those who received the option for assisted suicide, only 2/3 have utilized it (Tucker). Rather than needing to end the pain immediately, the idea that knowing one is able to can be just as powerful. Studies suggest that over 80% of people, should they find themselves terminally ill and suffering, would like assisted-suicide to be an option (Grayling). Since its legalization in Oregon, the Death with Dignity Act has been able to help many terminally ill people seek assisted suicide to end their pain. Despite critics’ warnings, the act has been carefully established and has proven that assisted suicide can work well when carried out in the United States.
Since assisted suicide has been shown to work when legalized, the only reasons against the practice are based on personal beliefs. To allow one to end their suffering and to grant them their desired medical treatment is both kind and moral. The availability for assisted suicide as an end-of-life healthcare choice should be available for all. Whether or not a patient accepts assisted suicide as a means of treatment is completely up to them, yet it is humanity’s obligation to offer such a choice.
Glover, Peter. "There Is No Justification for Legalizing Euthanasia." Ed. Noel Merino. Gale Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Greenhaven, n.d. Web. 3 May 2013.
Grayling, A. C. "It Is Compassionate to Permit Assisted Suicide." Gale Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Greenhaven, n.d. Web. 3 May 2013.
"Suicide, Euthanasia, and Physician-Assisted Suicide." Death and Dying: End-of-Life Controversies. Ed. Sandra M. Alters. Detroit: Gale, 2008. N. pag. Information Plus Reference Series. Gale Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 6 May 2013.
Tucker, Kathryn L. "Assisted Suicide Works Well in Oregon." Cengage Learning. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, n.d. N. pag. Gale Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 6 May 2013.