Physician Assisted Suicide

Physician Assisted Suicide

SOC 120 Introduction to Ethics & Social Responsibility

A Right to Die

Imagine your loved one being incapable of the simplest of conscious motor functions or coherent thought. Due to a drunken driver and a traumatic automobile accident, the only way this victim can be fed is through a feeding tube that has been inserted into their small intestine. While unaware of their surroundings, a small towel has been carefully placed underneath their chin to catch an excessive flow of salvia, which periodically and uncontrollably oozes from the corner of their mouth. Sponges have carefully been placed into the patient’s clenched fist in order to prevent their fingernails from digging into the skin of their palms. Once so full of life, your loved one is now an unknowing participant in one of the most agonizing ethical issues of today: euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Over the ages many facing slow and painful deaths have sought out euthanasia or assisted suicide, as the solution to end unwanted pain and suffering. But to many the choice to pursue these options as a possible solution or way to avoid a slow and or perhaps painful death versus one which could be painless, quick, and easy is not all the moral way to end their current illness or condition. Instead, it is seen as merely a suicidal or murderous act. On the other hand, supporters of euthanasia advocate that the choice to pursue euthanasia or assisted suicide should ultimately be left up to the patient or the patient’s family. This widely discussed, controversial issue has compelled many to speak out and address whether or not, people should, legally, have the option to choose the “right to die”. If two people are debating the morality of physician–assisted suicide, and one person insists on the existence of an eternal human soul while the other denies its existence, they almost certainly will disagree over how to describe the problem itself (Mosser, 2010).

Many people in our culture feel that euthanasia and assisted suicide should be a person’s personal choice to choose. That one should have the option to choose the right to die. In this case, the right to die would be an exercise involving someone doing something in order to bring about death. When a person engages in act of euthanasia or assisted suicide, he or she does so because they believe that the death of this person is the only solution. They are totally convinced that the persons’ present condition is beyond a healing point and that he or she would be better off dead than alive. Therefore, the motive of the person who commits this act of euthanasia and assisted suicide is solely to benefit the one whose death is brought about. Euthanasia is of Greek origin and literally means “a good death”. The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as “The act or practice of ending the life of a person or animal having a terminal illness or a medical condition that causes suffering perceived as incompatible with an acceptable quality of life, as by lethal injection or the suspension of certain medical treatments (American Heritage Dictionary, 2011). This form of mercy killing is more commonly referred to as assisted suicide or physician assisted in cases when medical personnel are involved. Assisted suicide occurs when a non-suicidal person knowingly and intentionally provides the mean or acts in some way to help a suicidal person kill himself (Marker, 2013).

Euthanasia can be done through active or passive means, as well as through voluntary or involuntary means.

Active euthanasia is the procedure by which death is brought about by a definite act. It is the ending of life by direct means, such as by voluntarily with the patient’s consent or non-voluntary without the permission of the patient. Active euthanasia is considered to be voluntary when the patient is of sound mind and wished to assist in bringing about their death. Involuntary euthanasia is when the patient is not legally competent and is unable to speak on their own behalf, but it assumed that if he or she were they would, in fact, consent to being out to death prematurely. An example of voluntary active euthanasia could be a situation where an AIDS patient requests an overdose of drugs in order to bring about instant death.

Passive euthanasia is the act by which death is allowed by suspension of necessary care or treatment, such as the withholding of food and water. Like active euthanasia, passive euthanasia can too, be carried out by both voluntary and involuntary means. Voluntary passive euthanasia occurs when the patient involves chooses a natural death over treatment that might be lifesaving, such as the early withdrawal of life support equipment. A situation where a patient is unable to give or deny permission for treatment, but is still not given the medical treatment required to sustain or prolong life is referred to as involuntary passive euthanasia. A simple example of involuntary passive euthanasia would be stopping the specific drugs needed for life sustainment of a patient whose heart is still beating, but brain is dead.

Unlike euthanasia, an act where someone else brings about death, physician assisted suicide or assisted suicide is causing death by providing assistance to someone who wishes to end his or her life prematurely. This practice can aid in making death a quick and painless option, for those patients with incurable diseases or injuries. An example of assisted suicide could be a situation where a physician would provide an overdose of medication to the patient for self-injection order to bring about death. Ironically, in today society with all its modern technology, some have taken it upon themselves to assist in premature deaths without the patient knowledge or consent. These participants who have subjected themselves to assist in the premature deaths of others have been referred to as “death angels”. According to Wesley Smith who did a study on the sudden boom of so-called death angels in United Stated. They call them “death angels” doctors or other medical professionals who stalk hospital and nursing-home corridors searching quietly for the sickest and most defenseless patients to secretly dispatch. The term is most unfortunate, carrying with it the implication that these premeditated killers of sick, disabled, and dying people are somehow doing their victims a favor by “ending their suffering.” In fact, there is nothing angelic about presuming the right to decide that the time has come for another human being to die (Smith, 2001).

Physician-assisted suicide is a humane act that can end a terminal patient’s suffering. Society has long advocated for this type of intervention where our pets are concerned. It is justified to put a pet “out of his misery” rather than watch him suffer until death. It is time this same compassion is shown to human beings. The Hippocratic Oath which all doctors must take upon confirmation of their medical degree, has changed to encompass the need of physician-assisted suicide. One need only compare the classic version to the modern version to understand its implications. Hippocratic Oath Classic Version: I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Modern Version: But it may be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty (Hippocrates, c. 460-377 BC).

Many believe that any form of euthanasia or assisted suicide is essentially a form of suicide involving the assistance of others, and most have found it not only inconceivable, but also contemptible that some would rather die, with little or no fight, than try to hold on to life. But, although euthanasia is sometimes used interchangeably with the word suicide, the two are very different. I personnel feel suicide is becoming a common tragic, selfish individual act. People do have the power to commit suicide and about a million people commit suicide annually. Euthanasia and assisted suicide are not private acts; rather they involve one person facilitating the death of another (Marker, 2013).

Suicide is defined as an intentional and coerced self-killing in which the condition causing death are self arranged (Fieser, J. 2008). Most advocates of voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide are dedicating to the view that there are two forms of suicide. These two categories are emotional suicide and justifiable suicide. Emotional suicide is an irrational self-murder, which occurs when people are so tormented with life that they cannot bear to love. The second form, justifiable suicide, is defined as a planned death which is rational and planned deliverance from a painful and hopeless existence or incurable disease.

In modern society, although suicide and attempted suicide are not crimes, assistance with suicide is. Opponents of euthanasia and assisted suicide perceive any type of form of assistance with dying as an outright murderous act, which is the same as killing. Usual acts of killing involve taking human life against a persons’ will and without their personal consent. The intent of the act “to kill” is to cause the death of or to primarily cause harm, which will ultimately cause the death of a person. On a different note, there are those who fell that the “kill” is too strong a word for assisted dying. These supporters of euthanasia and assisted suicide contend that assisted dying is an act that is and should only be carried out either by the patients’ request or by act of compassion carried out on the behalf of the patient by someone who is fulfilling their request to be relieved from their suffering by death.

Families of terminally ill patients can face unforeseen burdens, which can cause severe stress and overwhelming hardships on a normal family’s once stable life. The first occurrence of major adjustments occurs initially when the family must suddenly face the reality of what has happened to their love one. Many find it difficult to comprehend the inevitable truth that their ill stricken loved one’s present condition is permanent and that he or she will never return back their once healthy and energetic state. Another burden, which normally falls on the closet next of kin shoulders, is coping and being strong for everyone else, including the patient. Being strong for the patient, as well as other relatives, especially children, can be very strainful. Being there for everyone else sometimes never allows that person to grieve and grip the reality of the situation. One of the most important and unavoidable burdens is all the time and energy that can be spent ensuring that the patient is receiving all the proper and necessary care required to sustain life. Routine and sudden trips to the hospital can upset a stable lifestyle as force one to miss time away from work. Missing time from work will lead to an even more major hardship; medical bills. Managing high cost medical expenses in one’s normal day to day living expenses can be very costly and cost financial strain on a family. Even with insurance, a family may find themselves financially exhausted with the costs associated with required, long-term medical care.

If conscious and aware of their present state, the patient, themselves can also undergo overbearing stress. Being overly consumed with the guilt of feeling like a burden to his or her family can have a detrimental and adverse effect on the patient condition. They often become depressed and give up on the will to live. No one wants to cause hardship or be a burden on his or her family. The thought of having a negative impact on others lives can sometimes cause the patient to resort to conclusion that he or she would be better off dead than alive. Both the patient and the family will need to be properly advised, counseled, and prepared on the unforeseen and unexpected complications that could possibly occur.

Ill-stricken patients and their families are not the only ones who have to cope with the emotional strain of the patient condition. The attending physician as well other medical personnel involved also have a role in scenario. When caring for the terminal ill emotional attachments and bonds may occur between the patient and the medical personnel who care for them. The family, as well as society, has entrusted the attending physician to give the patient in question the best possible medical care the he or she has been trained and has the experience to give.

In the past, it was expected of doctors to do all that was possible to meet the needs of dying patients and to ensure that the patient’s last days were as comfortable as possible. The attending physician would also be relied upon to prepare both the patient and their significant others for the death by addressing issues such as how to deal with pain, suffering, and possible depression. The patient and their family would enter the physician-patient relationship with certain expectations; specifically that the physician will use their skills to aid them in all means available. Even if death was the probable outcome, it was expected of the physician and caregivers concerned to make the patient feel that life is not over and that there was still hope. The refusal of required treatment or the suggestion of assisted suicide by a physician who has been entrusted with the care of a patient may gravely damage the traditional image of the doctor-patient relationship. Doctors, as well as all health care workers associated with the terminal patients each have a very crucial role in the dying process.

With the possibility of an emotional attachment occurring several changes have occurred in the world of medical care. The training of doctors, nurses, ethics personnel and other health care workers has changed dramatically. In the past, the main concern was for modern medicine, if possible, was to keep a patient alive longer through artificial means. With today’s modern technology and changing times, the main concern has shifted and transformed from keeping the patient alive longer than may be desired to the possibility of having life ended sooner than the patient or their family may want.

In the past patients would sometimes be attached to life sustaining machines regardless of anyone’s wishes. Today, some health care professionals feel that in certain cases that such treatment is not warranted and should be refused. The treatment is being seen as being futile or inappropriate due to an increasing emphasis for health care providers to contain health care cost. In recent years businesses, health care organizations, insurance companies, and others footing the bill, are pressuring doctors and other medical workers to cut back, in terms of treatment, by providing less rather than more care for patients. People, who have little or no medical insurance, such as elderly, the poor, and minorities, are often denied required treatment at many hospitals. Doctors who practice underneath health care organization are constantly dictated to reduce care to patients, so that the health care organization or the business concerned can benefit financially. Furthermore, in order to secure their positions, many hospitals have went so far as to establish and adopt written policies and procedures by which life-sustaining treatment could be refused. Treatment would be given only if the attending physician determines that the quality of the patients’ life justifies the costs it would take to keep the patient alive. Therefore, ultimately, the doctor would be allowed to refuse care if it appears that keeping the patient alive would cause needless or undue financial burden on the hospital or health care organization involved. The acceptance of this practice would do away with the traditional physician-patient bond. Patients would be seen and treated more and more in terms of cases or mere numbers verses as individuals.

The acceptance of euthanasia practices will quickly destroy the traditional bond of trust between doctor and patient; that the patient will never know if the doctor is going to kill them or not; that commercialized medical practices will jump at the chance to get rid of long-term patients who are short of insurance funding (Panzer, R. 2011-2013).

Overall, the question of rather or not to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide has become a pressing ethical issue. Today society is very inconsistent in regards to euthanasia and assisted suicide practices. Across the United States and throughout the world there are ongoing, intensive debates concerning the subject. Some feel that it should be legalized and available as an alternative for those who really may need it; whereas others feel that any form of assisted dying is outright a wrongful act because it involves the taking of life and if legalized will many bring about many unforeseen threats to society. Those who favor the practice of euthanasia and assisted suicide feel that doctors should not only be physicians, but humanitarians as well. They also feel that when there is no hope for the patient, that life support systems and other life sustaining forms of modern medical technology should not be used to prolong life. On the other hand, those who oppose euthanasia practices affirm that every possible measure should be taken to keep the patient alive as long as treatment will allow them to remain alive. They fear that, unless assisted suicide as an option would be a dangerous tool and will ultimately create negative attitudes in modern medicine.

In conclusion physician-assisted suicide is arguably the most controversial topic in the legal and medical system, and both sides can be debated repetitively. In the medical field and the religious community, suicide is shunned because it violates the swore Hippocratic Oath and it goes against everything that the religious community believes in. It is also argued that the patient is being selfish and not thinking about their family, but they are thinking not only of them, but the financial, emotional, and physical strain it causes. The patient is also thinking about how the illness will slowly take over their mind and body, so they would rather die with dignity and the way that people remember them. No matter which side society believes is right or wrong, it is ultimately up to the patient to make the decision on whether or not their illness is worth living through the pain.


Mosser, K. (2010). Ethics and Social Responsibility San Diego, Bridgepoint Education, Inc.

American Heritage Dictionary (Euthanasia), 2011

Marker, Rita L.; Patient Right Council (2013):

Smith, Wesley J.; The Culture of Death Angels (2001):

Hippocrates, (c.460 – 377BC) The Hippocratic Oath:

Marker, Rita and Hamlon, Kathi; Patients Council Rights (2013) Euthanasia and assisted suicide;

Fieser, James. (2008); Moral Issues that Divide Us;

Panzer, Ron, (2011-2013); Stealth Euthanasia;