Can a Case be made for Physician-Assisted Suicide?

I have often wondered whether there would be circumstances where I would prefer not to live and even circumstances whereby I would choose to end my own life.  I am not sure if I would have the courage to take my life but I can imagine circumstances where I might want to avoid extreme suffering or mental anguish such as burning to death.  I could also imagine the possibility of ending my life if suffering from an incurable disease that is progressively robbing me of both my dignity and quality of life such as dementia or Alzheimer’s or cancer even if the pain can be controlled.

I am not talking about suicide where one takes their own life or euthanasia where another commits a mercy killing.  For this discussion I am restricting my arguments to physician-assisted suicide where a person is of sane mine but is so advanced in their illness as not to be able to end their life without some assistance.  This is a far easier case to argue because the person wanting to die can demonstrate the loss of dignity and lack of quality of life as well as the ability to make an informed decision.  Physician-assisted suicides must be pre-arranged and prepared by a qualified doctor but the person wanting to die actually activates the mechanism that ends their life such as pressing a button that turns on a lethal gas or injects a lethal chemical.  The object of physician-assisted suicides is to end ones own life with the least effort, painlessly and humanly.

The most famous person who assisted many such suicides was Dr. Jack Kevorkian who the media labeled Dr. Death.  Dr. Kevorkian was a medical pathologist who believed so strongly in physician-assisted suicides that he risked his career and freedom to offer patients this choice.  He ended up going to prison for 2nd degree murder and served 8 years of a 10-25 year sentence.  It is that choice that I believe people, of sane minds who have been obviously robbed of their dignity and quality of life, should have to end their lives when and where they see fit.  They are not doing any harm to others but removing themselves from a hopeless and degrading situation.  We put our beloved pet down out of love when it is suffering, yet society makes it illegal for an equally suffering human being to end their own life with dignity.  I fail to see the logic in this.

If physician-assisted suicide was made legal, legal procedures could be developed to assure that it is done properly, humanly, and with dignity.  We as a society are selfish because we care more about our feelings in not letting go of a loved one than we do for the loved one who wants to choose the time and place of their departure.  I feel that people of sane and clear minds should have a choice as to their destinies both for life and in death.  I feel we have no right to do harm to another by robbing them of their right to die with dignity if it can be clearly demonstrate that there is no hope.

Physician-assisted suicides have the highest chance of safeguards against abuses and carrying out the wishes of the patient in the most humane way of their choosing.  I see no downside to having such choices other than for religious reasons which should play no role in our laws due to the separation of church from state.  We should permit the only thing these individuals might have left to control in their life, the time and place of their passing.  Otherwise they continue to suffer without dignity until death plays its hand.

Please don’t get me wrong.  I am not promoting physician-assisted suicide as Dr. Kevorkian did.  But I am saying that there is a place for such things and care givers who really care about ones choice to die humanly with dignity.  I am saying that people should have such legal choices.  I most certainly would like to have that as an option just in case I feel life is no longer worth living and that I fit the requirements that I have just outlined for a legally doctor-assisted suicide.  At present we do not have that legal right in most states and those who choose to aid those wanting to die with dignity are committing murder where it is illegal.  This does happen occasionally when a care giver secretly injects a high dose of pain killing medication to speed up the dying process.

If made legal this could be treated as part of the health care system such as part of a hospice program with medical experts involved.  Living wills and health directive could include the patient’s wishes and arrangements about physician-assisted suicides.  To date there are 4 states where physician-assisted suicides are legal: Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.

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One Response to Can a Case be made for Physician-Assisted Suicide?

  1. Pingback: The Value of Life | ouR Social Conscience

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