A Stand Against Assisted Suicide Assisted suicide is a highly controversial topic. Assisted suicide is when, upon request, a doctor prescribes a lethal dose of medication to a terminally ill patient so that the patient can kill him or herself. In other words, a doctor provides the means for a patient to commit suicide.
A form of assisted suicide is euthanasia. Euthanasia is when the doctor intentionally kills the patient with the intentions of ending the patient’s suffering; mercy killing.Although there have been many Supreme Court rulings on assisted suicide and the practice of euthanasia, it is legal in some states like Oregon and Washington. The practice of assisted suicide is done under the term “terminally ill. ” There is no concrete interpretation of the phrase. Therefore, the phrase terminally ill can be interrupted according to which ever definition works best for us. Assisted suicide also causes mistrust between patients and doctors, unnecessary deaths, and involuntary suicide.
Assisted suicide has a profound affect on family relationships, doctor-patient relationships, and ethical standards because of the mistrust it creates and the controversy over the issue. Assisted suicide and the use of euthanasia should be outlawed everywhere in the United States, not just in some states. Because euthanasia is a form of assisted suicide, I will, for the purpose of this paper, address the terms “assisted suicide” and “euthanasia” as one practice.
The most important argument for banning assisted suicide may be that of misdiagnoses.In a 2006 New York Times article, journalist David Leonhardt said that “Studies of autopsies have shown that doctors seriously misdiagnose fatal illnesses about 20 percent of the time” (Leonhardt). Harvard hematologist Jerome Groopman found that “80% of medical mistakes are the result of predictable mental traps, or cognitive errors… [While] only 20% are due to technical mishaps” (Gorman). In other words, 80% of medical errors are due to the doctors themselves and not to technological issues.With doctors misdiagnosing patients at this astounding rate, it is inevitable that some patients will be misdiagnosed with a terminally ill disease, become depressed about their diagnoses, and think their pain is uncontrollable. This may leads to a request for assisted suicide under false pretences.
Not only will these be tragic events, but doctors who misdiagnose are bound to be charged with murder since their diagnoses led to the intentional death of their patient.Erik Van Tongerloo wrote an article against the use of euthanasia on the basis of a true and personal experience: When I was 10 years old I was involved in an accident and was in a coma for 5 weeks. The doctors told my parents I had no chance to survive and they treated me because it was their duty. If euthanasia was allowed maybe I [would] not [be] alive anymore.
I am still alive and most of my health problems are cured now. (qtd. in Tongerloo) In Tongerloo’s story, the doctors made a devastating decision prematurely that could have changed the life of Tongerloo and his family forever.Like Tongerloo, we should ask ourselves the same question: If euthanasia was a common practice at that time, would he still be alive? I would like to think so, but we cannot predict what would have been. We can only prevent what can happen in the future by banning the use of assisted suicide in the United States. Assisted suicide should also be outlawed because of the open interpretation of the phrase “terminally ill. ” In other words, “terminal” can be defined in many different ways. Jack Kevorkian, once deemed “Doctor Death,” “defines terminal illness as any disease that curtails life even for a day” (Sarkar).
There are many diseases or conditions that can “curtail life even for a day. ” Diabetic patients can slip into temporary comas if they are not careful in treating themselves. Nonetheless, they are not good candidates for assisted suicide. In contrast to Kevorkian’s definition, The Uniform Rights of the Terminally Ill Act of 1989 defines “Terminal condition [as meaning] an incurable and irreversible condition that, without the administration of life-sustaining treatment, will, in the opinion of the attending physician, result in death within a relatively short time” (National).This is a much more acceptable definition. Several states also have specific laws confined to their state on what “terminally ill” means.
As we can see, the term “terminally ill” can be revised and manipulated to include everyone at one point or another. With such confusing definitions, some people could argue that they are terminally ill and therefore have a right to assisted suicide. It is only a matter of time before someone makes this argument in front of a Supreme Court and is granted the use of assisted suicide to end their life that may have otherwise been rich and full of experience.Another reason that the practice of assisted suicide should be outlawed is that it will encourage distrust between patients and their attending physicians. Judge John Noonan of the Ninth Circuit panel said that “most patients do what their doctors recommend. As an eminent commission concluded, once the physician suggests suicide or euthanasia, some patients will feel that they have few, if any, alternatives but to accept the recommendation” (Bork 15-20).We all feel the need to do exactly as our doctor tells us so we should all understand the pressure that these people would be under once the recommendation to commit suicide is presented to them. This pressure is the underlying cause for mistrust in the relationship between a patient and his or her doctor.
The medical team, especially doctors, are expected to provide a safe and secure setting for patients. This includes not only physical safety but also the sense of security.When a doctor assists in suicide, people believe that the patient was pressured by the doctor into doing it; therefore breaking the trust bond that patients have with their medical staff. Another important reason to ban assisted suicide is that terminally ill patients may decide upon assisted suicide while they are mentally unwell.
Being termed “terminally ill” has many mentally devastating consequences for most patients. They are disheartened to hear that they will soon die from their disease. In most cases, this leads to severe depression.While under such overwhelming depression, patients are in a very vulnerable state of mind, making any decision they make questionable. Many patients feel pressure from themselves, loved ones, or even from their attending doctors, to end their life, as it is a burden on those around them.
Depression is not the only factor that affects the mind of the terminally ill. Most patients with terminal diseases are in unimaginable chronic pain and are under an aggressive regime of pain medication. The affects of such an amount of medication can definitely take its toll on the human mind.Even though the high amount of pain medication does offer some relief of pain, for most patients, it does not eliminate it completely. Therefore, on top of depression and pain medication they also have to deal with the residing pain affecting their state of mind. Mojtaba Rismanchi, a medical student at the University of Medical Sciences, said that “studies using MRI technology have shown brain deficits in CPPs [(Chronic Pain Patients)]… [A] person who is under the mental pressures [of pain] is not capable of making critical decisions” (Rismanchi).
According to Rismanchi, patients experiencing chronic pain cannot make critical decisions, like assisted suicide, with a straight and clear mind. We can compare the affects of chronic pain to torture. When someone is tortured they will most likely do anything, rational or not, to end their pain. It is the same with CPPs.
We can not allow such radical decisions to be made under such circumstances, but rather we should continue to strive to make their lives more comfortable. Another strong argument for banning assisted suicide is the “slippery-slope” argument that says that voluntary euthanasia will lead to involuntary euthanasia.Penney Lewis, a School of Law graduate, says that we’ve seen this “slippery-slope” before with the case of abortion. [T]he legalization of abortion in limited circumstances [has lead] down the slippery slope towards abortion on demand and even infanticide; and the legalization of assisted suicide [will lead] inexorably to the acceptance of voluntary euthanasia and subsequently to the sanctioning of the practice of non-voluntary euthanasia – even involuntary euthanasia of “undesirable” individuals. Lewis 195-210) If we look at how the outlook on abortion used to be and how far its acceptance has come today, we can use abortion as a precedent, like Lewis has, to see what will happen in the future if we allow assisted suicide, even with limited abilities. In fact, studies have already been made in other countries that already practice assisted suicide, such as the Netherlands, to determine how many individuals die each year due to involuntary euthanasia.Despite the fact that the rate of legalized euthanasia in the Netherlands has gone up, in the three large-scale surveys conducted in that country the rate of terminations of life without explicit request (the Dutch term for non-voluntary and involuntary euthanasia) has remained steady at roughly 0. 7–0.
8% of all deaths in the Netherlands (roughly 900–1000 deaths). (qtd. in Smith 131) The Netherlands are not the only country to be experiencing death by involuntary euthanasia. In 1997, Australia reported that 3. 5% of all deaths involving euthanasia were the result of non-voluntary or involuntary euthanasia (Smith 131).
Belgium and Denmark are also listed in the study, each with their own numbers of involuntary deaths. As the evidence points out, voluntary euthanasia will lead to involuntary euthanasia if we allow it to be practiced. Some people disagree with banning the use of assisted suicide and euthanasia. The backbone of their campaign is the idea of autonomy, “the quality or state of being self-governing; especially the right of self-government” (Dictionary). They believe that everyone should be able to decide how they want to die.
If someone wants to die by assisted suicide, it is his or her fundamental right to be able to do so. Proponents of banning assisted suicide do not solely disagree that people should be able to be self-governing, but they do believe that the consequences of these actions will affect everything; thus the arguments against it. The consequences of allowing such actions would be far worse than the consequences of outlawing it. Another argument against banning assisted suicide is that by doing so we are forcing patients to suffer and endure unbearable pain and heartache.This has long been a concern for both parties campaigning for or against assisted suicide. Proponents of outlawing the practice have agreed that extra measures can be put in place to make the fight against pain more aggressive and accurate.
Everyday new discoveries are being made to help these people escape their suffering without ending their life. Besides medications, certified nursing assistants and other nurse faculty are trained and highly qualified to help meet these patient’s every need and help them be as comfortable as possible.A last argument against banning assisted suicide is that families with a loved one plagued by a terminal illness can end their grief and continue on with their lives by allowing an assisted suicide to happen to their loved one. It is a complicated situation and emotionally tiring to have a loved one with a terminal disease. No one admits to understanding the grief one must go through while watching a loved one suffer in agony. However, there are other alternatives to dealing with this grief. Most hospitals offer convenient counselors and therapists that specialize in helping the families of sick patients.These therapists are trained to help families deal with these hard times and help them continue to live life.
Ending someone’s life so that the family can “move on” is understandable, but not acceptable when other alternatives are presented. As I have shown, assisted suicide and the use of euthanasia must be outlawed in every state. Lewis was right when she said that “today’s decision-makers [are called upon] to consider the behavior of others who tomorrow will have to apply or interpret today’s decisions” (Lewis 195-210).The decisions we make today will be acted upon in the future. If we allow assisted suicide, it will forever change the moral code, by which we, as the community of medicine, act upon, the relationships our patients will have with us, and numerous other devastating affects. “The terminally ill are a class of persons who need protection from family, social, and economic pressures, and who are often particularly vulnerable to such pressures because of chronic pain, depression, and the effects of medication” (Alaska).
Together we can stand up against assisted suicide and encourage the continuous study of alternative methods to help terminally ill patients. We will not regret it. Works Cited Alaska Supreme Court. Sampson et al.
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