One of the most controversial topics in the last decade has been that of physician assisted suicide. Physician assisted suicide occurs when a physician or other medical professional assists a terminally ill or disabled person to take their own life, either by giving the physical means (e.g. prescription drugs) to commit suicide with or instructions on what method to use to commit suicide with. There are many moral and ethical arguments surrounding physician assisted suicide, some are based on religious beliefs while others are based on the rules of medical ethics. It can be argued that the terminally ill and the disabled should not be criminalized for taking their own lives however; it goes against all commonly accepted laws of medical ethics for a doctor to assist in the suicide of a patient.
Some argue that it is acceptable for physicians to assist their patients in committing suicide. One of the main reasons for this argument is that patients who are terminally or disabled often experience a lot of pain and suffering. This argument is based on the idea that it is the physician’s moral responsibility to help patients avoid pain and suffering no matter what it takes to help them do so. The second argument in favor of physician assisted suicide is that the right to commit suicide should be considered a basic human right. Third, by assisting a patient to leave the world peacefully and with dignity the physician can relieve the patient of watching their lives and bodies decay as they become sicker and their families of having to watch them suffer. Fourth, allowing physicians to assist terminally ill or disabled patients would reduce health care costs both to the family and the medical system. (Balanced Politics.Org)
Others approach the argument from a more practical point of view by claiming that helping terminally ill or disabled patients will allow doctors and nurses to focus more on patients that have a better chance of recovery. A sixth argument is that preventing suicide violates a person’s religious freedom. Seventh, it is argued that laws can be written which will protect both the physicians and the patients while maintaining the value of human life that physicians promise to uphold when they take the Hippocratic Oath. The final argument is that allowing physicians the help patients to take their own lives will prevent patients from committing suicide in horrific ways that will result in possible failure and further trauma to the patient and their family. (Balanced Politics.Org)
There are of course opposing arguments to the idea that physicians should legally be allowed to assist patients in committing suicide. The first major argument is that helping patients to commit suicide would be asking doctors to violate the Hippocratic Oath that every doctor is required to take before being licensed to practice. This oath essentially is a vow that states that the goal of a doctor should be to preserve lives and that that the doctor will make every effort to do so. The second argument is that encouraging the terminally ill and disabled to commit suicide and allowing doctors to assist them reduces the value of human life. Third, allowing physicians to assist patients to commit suicide could encourage abuse of the system such as, helping the chronically ill to commit ill to commit suicide, or in encouraging rather than discouraging patients from committing suicide.
Fourth, allowing physician assisted suicide may cause religious issues since several religions disallow suicide and term it to be a sin. Fifth, the legalization of physician assisted suicide may encourage doctors to give up on patients even when there is a chance of a cure after all sometimes patients have been cured at the last minute.. Sixth, political organizations or insurance companies may increase the pressure on doctors and other medical professionals to refuse to perform heroic measures and to encourage physician assisted suicide for the terminally ill in order to save money. Finally, those that oppose physician assisted suicide argue that allowing physician assisted suicide would place too much control in the hands of doctors and politicians. (Balanced Politics.Org)
In my opinion the terminally ill and disabled should not be criminalized for attempting to take their own lives. Those with terminal illnesses and disabilities often experience a great deal of pain, physically and emotionally. Unless one is suffering a terminal illness or disability no one can claim to understand what the terminally ill or disabled person and their families are going through. While there may be certain religions prohibitions against suicide terminal illness and disability should be considered as special circumstances due to the pain and trauma experienced by the patient and their family.
However; doctors should not assist patients to commit suicide. The Hippocratic Oath is a serious moral vow to preserve life. Doctors may also be unduly influenced to encourage the terminally ill or disabled to commit suicide by insurance companies wishing to save money, or pharmaceutical companies wishing to try new suicide drugs. Doctors are also far to influenced by politics and by looking at what happened with the terminally ill and disabled in Nazi Germany it is fairly easy to see that it is a fine line between helping patients to take their own lives in order to prevent further suffering and forcing them to take their own lives because they are no worthy of life. This places doctors on a very slippery moral slope because they may be faced with immense political pressure and financial pressure to encourage the terminally ill and the disabled to commit suicide. Finally, doctors should not be allowed to assist patients to commit suicide because the public trusts doctors to save rather than take lives.
There would be many who would criticize this argument. Those with strong religious beliefs specifically regarding suicide would criticize this argument because it argues that suicide should not be criminalized. They would also critique this argument because on the one hand it claims that suicide should not be criminalized while on the other hand it argues that physicians should not assist patients in committing suicide. This argument would also be criticized by supporters of physician assisted suicide because, as I have stated I am against medical involvement in suicide specifically because that people will not trust doctors who do not uphold the oaths they must take in order to be licensed.
In the end I support my argument because it is middle of the road. It neither condemns people for committing suicide when they are not terminally ill or disabled nor does it ask medical professionals to place themselves in a situation whereby their morals and ethics will be called into question by the public. In taking this stance I have effectively declared myself neutral in this argument. I understand the claims of both sides and have tried to create a middle ground where none of the parties involved are criticized for their beliefs of or their opinions. While neutrality can be viewed as more acceptable than supporting extremes in the physician assisted suicide debate, it can also create problems in that both parties can find fault with you claims. In conclusion, while suicide should not be encouraged amongst the terminally ill or disabled it should not be criminalized either. However, doctors and other medical professionals should remain on the sidelines as assisting a person to commit suicide could place someone on morally shaky ground.