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Tuesday, 01 November 2011 08:38

Physician Assisted Suicide Featured

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    Physician Assisted Suicide

An ethical issue emerges when a decision has to be made concerning two alternatives that have conflicting views. Ethical issues may arise when the choice involves giving up something that is deemed to be good and going through something deemed to be bad, regardless of the course of action. Physician assisted suicide is defined as the deliberate termination of a patent’s life by administering a lethal drug through a direct or indirect help from a physician. It is among the most controversial legal and ethical issue in biomedical ethics. However, it is important to take note that human life is so precious and valuable. It is unethical to intentionally terminate a life through any means including physician-assisted suicide.


Physician assisted suicide also referred to as doctor-aided suicide entails the act of a physician prescribing medication with the intention of terminating a patient’s life. Only the Oregon state in the United State permits doctor-aided suicide. Through the Death with Dignity Act of Oregon, it is legal for physicians to prescribe legal drugs to terminally sick residents (Pozqa, Santucci and Pinnella, 2009). There is a conflict encountered by physicians between the mandate and the urge to relive suffering and pain in terminally ill patients. There is an ancient taboo that is against medical killing, preventing physicians from administering lethal injections to such patients.

Patients who suffer from terminal diseases experience a wide spectrum of wrenching emotional and physical pain. Numerous pleas from patients suffering from terminal illnesses such as cancer and AIDS begging to be given a change to end their lives with dignity have been witnessed. These patients have the desire to escape the crippling and uncontrollable pain and suffering. Many of such patients hold the belief that suicide is the only best way through which they can cease the intense pain experienced. Out of fear of incapacitation due to terminal illnesses, patients opt to take their lives when they still can or decide to seek help from a trusted friend or physician. It is therefore presumable that people in support of physician-assisted suicide are inspired by kindliness and benevolence (Dell Orto and Power, 2007).
Proponents of physician-aided suicide base their arguments under two key principles. The first principal is that of patient autonomy or rational self-determination. Under this principle, each patient has a right to make autonomous decisions regarding the type or mode of treatment desired, inclusive of lethal injection that could result to death. The second principle under which proponents justify physician-assisted suicide is the essence of reliving suffering and pain. This works on the view that a patient should not be left to suffer beyond the limit that they wish to bear. The proponents further advance that patients have the mandate to choose death or physician-aided suicide as a means of avoiding suffering (Card, 2004).
Proponents have further argues that legalizing physician-assisted suicide would lower the costs of health care, which would consequently reduce insurance premiums and save estates. High costs are encountered in trying to keep dying patients alive. Moreover, huge amount f money ahs to be paid to cover for various drugs administered and medical tests done. It is therefore arguable that it is illogical and unsound to spend a lot of money caring for a patient whose wish is to die. Proponents postulate that it is unreasonable to spend a lot of money on terminally sick patients who have already made the choice of ending their lives (Mappes and DeGrazia, 2006).
Proponent have also argues that permitting doctor-aided suicide could help in saving vital organs that can be used by physicians to save other lives. Such organs include heart, kidney, liver and many other body organs. Advancement of terminal diseases leads to weakening and loss of function of the vital organs. It is thus logical for the needs of the living to take preference over the needs of patients who are willing to die (Mappes and Zembaty, 2006).Despite all the arguments in support of physician assisted suicide, objections to the issue are unavoidable. Opponents hold the view that doctor-aided suicide is inappropriate and unethical. First of all, the act is a violation against the Hippocratic Oath of doing no harm to patients in any way. Helping patients to commit suicide is more like causing harm to them and violating the oath.
The consequence of harming patients is weakening of the trust and rapport between the doctor and the patient (Pozqa, et al, 2009).The other reason for objecting physician-assisted suicide is that it results to demeaning of human life, which ought to be viewed as precious and valuable. Getting rid of life on the grounds that it is inconvenient and expensive disregards the value of life. It is important to understand that human life is far much greater than a mere cluster of tissues and cells. It is thus unethical to support physician-assisted suicide on the basis of monetary and any other grounds. It is certain that an ethical dilemma concerning physician-aided suicide arises when terminally ill patients’ request that their lives be terminated (Gorsuch, 2009).
The Utilitarian theory of John Stuart Mill could be used to find a solution to the ethical dilemma revolving around physician-aided suicide. According to this theory, it is ethically appropriate for a person to do the right act in order to produce the greatest good. In the context of physician-assisted suicide, right actions are those deemed to result to a greater degree of happiness rather than unhappiness. When a doctor decides to terminate a patient’s life by administering lethal drug, the intention is to end eliminate the patient’s suffering and pain. This implies that the physician intends to minimize suffering and maximize happiness (Card, 2004).
Additionally, happiness according to utilitarianism theory is defined as the absence of pain and intended pleasure. Unhappiness on the hand means absence of pleasure and presence of pain. Terminally ill patients are often unhappy and in pain at the end of their lives. Hence, under the utilitarianism theory, it is ethical appropriate for such patients to shorten their lives with the aim of relieving the suffering and pain they are going through. This would also maximize societal happiness since it would decrease monetary costs to the family of the patient and society at large. Under this theory, an ethically appropriate act would be using the best possible means to relives suffering and pain as well as to reaffirm a patient’s own importance and the importance of the individual to the society.
Physician-aided suicide is the necessary means of relieving suffering and pain as well as restoring an individual’s dignity (Odell, 2004).Alternatively, under the perspective of utilitarian theory, a terminally ill patient may choose to remain alive for the good of other people. This may be the case for the sake of the patient’s loved ones and the pain they may encounter because of death. Since the society places so much value and premium on life, a patient may choose to live for the sake of societal happiness. Additionally, under the utilitarian perspective, the family members may make the choice of keeping a terminally ill alive. They may make a decision noting that disregarding the value of life would cause harm to the society, and there is a remarkable chance of saving life (Card, 2004).

Contrary to supporting physician-assisted suicide under utilitarianism theory, the ethical issue could be objected under the perspective of egoism. Egoism might entice the terminally ill patient’s family to make the decision of letting the patient live. This is because the family members of a terminally ill patient are unable to live knowing that they are accountable for the death of a loved one. The family members would be very much at peace with the knowledge that they had given their best shot in trying to keep their loved one alive (Odell, 2004).

Alternatively ethical egoism can oblige family members of terminally ill patients to permit physician-assisted suicide. In such cases, family members feel that the patient is a burden to them emotionally and financially. They thus decide to terminate the individual’s life with the intention of reducing the emotional and financial constraints resulting from therapeutic measures administered. The cost of health care services has been gradually increasing over the last few decades especially from people paying insurance premiums. For this reasons, ethical egoism driving force for the support of physician-assisted suicide. This is on the basis that terminating a terminally ill patient’s life would reduce the costs of providing health care services (Pozqa, et al, 2009).
The utilitarian view of regarding the value of life and choosing to live is closer to my own opinion. It is evident that doctor-assisted suicide results to demeaning of the essence of human life. Human life should be viewed as a valuable and precious aspect that should be sustained, which is the vital key reason why for each death, one or more days are set aside for ceremonial reasons. The main thing that elevates the entire society is the value that people put to life. It is therefore ethically wrong to get rid of life on the grounds that it is inconvenient or expensive since this disregards the value of life. The society needs to understand that there is more to human life than a mere cluster of tissues and cells. It is ethically unsound to support physician-assisted suicide for monetary reasons or any other reason (Mappes, 2006).
Additionally, allowing physician-assisted suicide could result to other abuses as well as non-critical patient suicides. It is presumable that legalizing physician-assisted suicide could lead to violation of human rights. For instance, patients who wish to end their lives due to psychological and emotional problems could convince physicians into aiding them in terminating their lives. Consequently this might result to weakening of attitudes to the point of some states permitting any person wishing to commit suicide at any given time to do so. It is thus ethically wrong to let the firmly held principles and values to fade off by allowing physician-assisted suicide (Dell Orto, 2007).
In the current age of uncertainty, there is a possibility of miracle recoveries and cures. It is inappropriate to underestimate the power of the human spirit. It is possible to overcome the worst of all illnesses and the longest of all odds by an ever cheerful and never-give up attitude. It is essential to consider numerous and continual medical and pharmaceutics innovations that could perhaps lead to a miraculous recovery. Ending a patient’s life is denying the patient a chance for a miraculous cure and healing. Moreover, it may deem rather unethical to reach a point where people are spending more time in finding ways of terminating life instead of sustaining it (Odell, 2004)..
Though it is understandable for patients with terminal illnesses to choose death over life, such patients could be accorded with compassionate care (Dell Orto, 2007). Legalizing physician-aided suicide is considered malfeasance due to the fact that it results to causing more harm than good. According to the Hippocratic Oath that doctors are required to take following graduation from the medical school, doctors promise to cause no harm to patients. Instead of aiding patients in committing suicide, physicians should take care of the needs of patients at the terminal phase of their life. Dying patients should continue receiving comfort care, adequate pain control, emotional support as well as moral support.
According to (Gorsuch, 2009), it is necessary to acknowledge the critical clinical distinctions and aspects of end-of-life care to patients. This is especially in relation to making use of therapies meant to relive pain and sustain life. Most of the choices that support physician-assisted suicide go against the ethical expectations of a health care professional. Majority of the courts that have ruled against the illegality of physician-assisted suicide have failed to comprehensively define terms and concepts like “final stages” and “terminally ill. This ahs made such rulings to be non-justifiable and questionable (Mappes, 2006).
There has been a movement seeking for the legal approval of doctor-aided suicide. Well, this should act as a symbol for the society to acknowledge the tough and complex issues that relate to end of life stage. This should never be viewed as a victory for individual autonomy and rights. Medical professionals are equipped with the appropriate and efficient tools for pain controlling the pain associated with end of life. Moreover, they have adequate tools meant to offer dignity to dying or terminally ill patients (Gorsuch, 2009). Having medial professionals that are better informed and the public working collaboratively to sustain and preserve human life is of the essence. It is unethical to intentionally terminate a life through any means including physician-assisted suicide.


It is clear that physician-assisted suicide is one of the most controversial ethical and legal issues. The pros and cons of this ethical dilemma may be justified under John Stuart mill’s theory of utilitarianism as well as on the basis of ethical egoism. Proponents of physician-assisted suicide hold the view that it is the best way to reduce the intense suffering and pain that terminally ill patient go through. Opponents on the other hand argue that physician-assisted suicide is unethical because it disregards the value of human life and violates the non-malfeasance principle of doing no harm to others.


Card, R. F. (2004). Critically thinking about medical ethics. Person/Prentice Hall

Dell Orto, A. E., & Power, P. W. (2007). The psychological and social impact of illness and disability (5th Ed). Springer Publishing Company

Gorsuch, N. M. (2009). The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia. Princeton University Press

Mappes, T. A., & DeGrazia, D. (2006). Biomedical ethics (6th Ed). McGraw-Hill

Mappes, T. A., & Zembaty, J. S. (2006). Social ethics. Morality and social policy (7th Ed). McGraw-Hill

Odell, S. J. (2004). On consequentialist ethics. Thomson/Wadsworth

Pozqa, G. D., Santucci, N., & Pinnella, J. W. (2009). Legal and Ethical Issues for Health Care Professionals (2nd Ed). Jones and Bartlett Learning

Last modified on Tuesday, 01 November 2011 09:13
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