Doctor assisted suicide Essay

This essay has a total of 2430 words and 11 pages.

Doctor assisted suicide


Jonathan Ponthier
English 102
27 November 2001



Doctor-assisted suicide

Suicide is the act or instance of taking one's own life voluntarily and intentionally
especially if that person is of sound mind. Euthanasia is the act or practice of killing
individuals who are hopelessly sick or injured for reasons of mercy. Doctor-assisted
suicide is a term used to describe the act of a doctor or physician providing direct or
indirect means of assisting someone in taking their own life. There are 2 types of
euthanasia. Passive euthanasia is withholding life-sustaining treatment either before or
after it has been initiated. Active euthanasia is "taking steps to end your life, as in
suicide, handling the action yourself" (Humphry 20). It is an explicit act such as writing
a lethal prescription or a directly injecting a lethal dose. Approximately 30,000
Americans kill themselves every year. This means that the rate of suicide is about 11.0
per 100,000 people. This rate is just the average, and it varies greatly among sexes and
races. The suicide rate for males is 19.8, but the rate for females is 3.8. This
difference in rates appears deceptive because females are 3 times more likely to attempt
suicide than males. Males are just more effective in their methods. White Americans have a
higher rate of suicide than any other ethnic group. It is believed that homosexuals have a
much greater rate than heterosexuals, but this is difficult to research because many
homosexuals hide their sexual orientation from fear of persecution. The terminally ill are
most closely associated with the doctor-assisted suicide issue. Many in this group argue
that once all medical care has failed, then one has the right to hasten death to avoid
pain and suffering. If a person is going to inevitably die from a painful disease, then
that person should have the right to decide when, where, and how death comes.

There are many ways for one to commit suicide. The 2 major types are self-inflicted and
assisted. Despite the popular issue of legalizing doctor-assisted suicide, most suicides
remain self-inflicted. Zeinert describes the statistics:

According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the majority of
those who commit suicide do so by shooting themselves. In fact, the latest
statistics available from the NCHS show that 59 percent of all suicides
were committed with some kind of firearm. Firearms can be found in more
than half of all American households. (55)

Two other popular methods are suffocation and ingestion of poison or pills. Pills are not
very effective because the adequate dose varies for different drugs. Taking pills also
allows the person time to change their mind and vomit the pills before absorption. Other
methods are jumping from high altitudes such as bridges or cliffs, drowning, crashing an
automobile, or slashing the veins in a wrist. These methods are frequently attempted but
do not have a high success rate. Assisted suicide is usually accomplished by a family
member or physician providing the adequate means for committing suicide. This is very
common with persons who do not have the ability to commit suicide on their own.

Many ancient cultures embraced and accepted suicide. In Greece suicide was considered
acceptable if one's health failed or when faced with scandal or shame. If a person was
able to convince authorities that his or her death was warranted, then a lethal dose of
the poison called hemlock was prescribed. The modern day Hemlock Society, the largest
right to die society, was named after this poison. The Christian church did not even
legislate against suicide until the sixth century because of the persistence of Saint
Augustine. He was appalled by the high number of suicides and urged the bishops to
establish a law against it. He based his argument from the sixth commandment of thou shalt
not kill, but most of his ideas came from Plato's Phaedo. This was his reasoning:

And because each soul is immortal, every life is valuable. Since life itself is a
gift from God, to reject it is to reject him and to frustrate his will; to kill his image
is to kill him-which means a one-way ticket to eternal damnation. (Uhlmann 61)

The actual mentions of suicides in the Bible were not recorded as being wrong or being
crimes against God. If intent is argued, then it can be said that even Jesus Christ
committed a type of suicide. According to the Bible he was sent down to sacrifice his life
for others.

Some recent court cases have changed laws and some attitudes towards doctor-assisted
suicide. Two cases reached the United States Supreme Court in January 1997 and were
decided simultaneously on June 26, 1997. The two cases were Washington State versus
Glucksberg and Vacco versus Quill of New York State. The ruling in both cases backed the
two state statutes which banned doctor-assisted suicide for the terminally ill. Linda
Greenhouse wrote that the Supreme Court's tone was that of a tentative first step rather
than a definitive final ruling on the issue (1). In an ACLU news release called "High
Court Rejects Constitutional right to Doctor-Assisted Suicide", the ACLU's national legal
director argued:

Each of us should have the right to die in a humane and dignified
manner. The exercise of this right is as central to personal autonomy and
bodily integrity as rights safeguarded by this Court's decisions relating
to marriage, family relationships, procreation, contraception, child
rearing and the refusal or termination of life-saving medical treatment.
(1)

On October 27, 1997 doctor-assisted suicide became a legal medical option for terminally
ill Oregon residents. This made Oregon the first State in the Union to pass such a
measure. Voters in Oregon passed the "Death with Dignity Act" by only a 60% majority, and
the measure remains very controversial among residents of Oregon. On November 28, 2000 the
Dutch Parliament passed a bill to authorize doctors in certain situations the right to
assist someone wishing to take their life. Dutch doctors have not been severely punished
over the last 30 years for assisting in suicide, but this measure makes it clearly legal
in certain circumstances.

The right to die argument remains a very controversial topic in the United States. If a
woman has the right to choose when an unborn baby is killed, then should not everyone have
the right to decide when he or she dies? This is especially important when terminal
illness or irreversible pain and suffering is involved. A person of sound mind is
perfectly capable of making the decision of committing suicide when the time is right.
Doctors and scientists are the ones who have altered the course of mankind's natural life
expectancy. Pharmaceutical companies have made trillions of dollars on the elderly by
inventing new and more potent chemicals to keep the body from expiring. Modern medicine
does not extend life; it only prolongs death. It seems as if the medical community has
single-handedly made the choice that people are to be kept alive for as long as possible.
If doctors can make a decision to place a person on life-sustaining equipment, then it
seems reasonable that an individual should have the right to decide when to die.

In 1990 the United States Supreme Court ruled in the case of Cruzan versus Missouri
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