Physician Assisted Suicide Ethics Essay

This essay has a total of 2078 words and 11 pages.

Physician Assisted Suicide Ethics

It is a controversy so complex and powerful that it perforates not only the core of
society’s public policy, but individual ethical and moral principle. It is a soul
searching burden placed upon the minds and hearts of all into the depths of the integrity
of quality of life and the sanctity of death. It is the issue of physician-assisted

This unpleasant inevitable dilemma of balancing the right and wrong of physician-assisted
suicide is met by many with great anguish. Many medical professionals view PAS as
jeopardizing the boundaries of their field. Many patients and families hold the view that
it allows for an autonomous death. Religious doctrines are entangled into the
controversial web of the pros and cons of PAS.

Concept of PAS
Placing to one side the fears and guilt associated with the issue of PAS, along with the
legal ramifications, perhaps a better understanding of the basic concept of PAS would aide
in the balancing process that has to be met before one can accept or reject PAS.
Euthanasia is “an easy death or means of inducing one and as the act or practice of
putting to death persons suffering from incurable conditions or diseases.” (Humber,
Almeder and Kasting 75) Passive euthanasia differs from active euthanasia in that one
allows nature to take its own course of natural death, and the other is the direct killing
of a patient. Involuntary euthanasia is an act which the patient does not give consent
to. When a competent individual gives consent and approval, then the act is voluntary

The concept of PAS dates back to ancient Greece during fourth or fifth centuries BC. The
belief of the majority then was that assisting seriously ill patients in committing
suicide was acceptable only “if (the patient) asked for it.” (Weir vi) PAS was a means of
escaping suffering and painful illness that resulted in death. However, as far back as
the fifth century BC in ancient Greece, not all agreed. Many physicians upheld the belief
of the Hippocratic Oath throughout their professional career. “I will neither give a
deadly drug to anybody if asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.”
(Beauchamp and Childress 329) The Hippocratic Oath has been considered the most
influential document governing the decisions of modern medical societies during the past
two hundred years. (Weir vi)

The National opinion Research Center in a 1990 survey declared 60% of United States
citizens said persons with incurable diseases had a right to end their own lives. (Gest
22) The Hemlock Society, an euthanasia advocacy organization, personally interviewed two
thousand adults and found 63% felt physician-assisted dying was an acceptable practice.
(Roper 25)

Physicians have also been surveyed about their viewpoints at different times.
Overwhelmingly, almost one half of the nine hundred plus physicians surveyed in a 1987
Australian university-based anonymous survey had requests from their patients to hasten
their death. Of those doctors, 30% admitted to assisting their patients in dying. The
requests of patients to terminate their lives is increasing in today’s society to preserve
the dignity of one’s death, and to spare the emotional trauma inflicted on loved one.

The American Bar Association in 1988 revealed 57% of its lawyers supported legalization of
active euthanasia for competent terminally ill patients. (Reidinger 20) The legal issues
of PAS has been rarely tested by the United States Supreme Court. Twenty-six states have
already passed legislation prohibiting assisted suicide. Only nine states have no
interdiction regarding any form of suicide. “The present debate over physician-assisted
death can be nothing more than speculative musing unless the patient has a legal right to
command assisted death and the physician is, at least, legally permitted to assist.”
(Humber 47)

Euthanasia and the Law
The ethical issues of physician-assisted suicide are a heavy burden for standards to be
set and guidelines to be followed by our courts. Without such standards and guidelines,
the legal exposure to physicians and individuals is much too great to risk. Prudent
judgment must be determined on a case by case basis, taking into account all circumstances
while balancing the right of an individual to exercise choice based on competent

Cruzan vs. Director Missouri Department of Health is the only “right to die” decision the
Court has had to make. The Court voted to uphold a Missouri Supreme Court ruling that
evidence of the incompetent patient’s wishes needed to be present in order to grant
refusal of treatment request made by Cruzon’s parents. This decision let to the precedent
for living will to be signed in the event an individual would request hastening their
death or refusal of treatment. Here, the Court specifically did not deal with the issue
of euthanasia by its decision, or one’s right to privacy and choice in the hour of their
death. Yet, it provides for living wills by patients to set forth their intentions in
meeting their death.

Griswald vs. Connecticut in 1965 is a case that deals with the Constitutional right to
privacy that protects the right of the individual to be secure from governmental intrusion
into matters of PAS based on religion and/or moral nature. Justice Douglas in his
majority opinion wrote, “Specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed
by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance.” (Griswald vs.
Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479)

The First, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Ninth Amendments have been called into play on the
issue of PAS. Justice Brandeis in a 1928 case, Olmstead vs. United States summarized the
principles of the Constitution’s guarantee to privacy. His profound words of wisdom
should be weighed heavily into the scale of balance in determining the acceptance or
rejection of one’s right to PAS.

“The makers of our Constitution undertook to secure conditions favorable to the pursuit of
happiness. They recognized the significance of man’s spiritual nature, of his feelings
and of his intellect. They knew that only a part of the pain, pleasure and satisfactions
of life are to be found in material things. They sought to protect Americans in their
beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations. They conferred, as against
the Government, the right to be let alone-the most comprehensive of rights and the right
most valued by civilized men.” (Bradeis.)

Autonomy Rights
The Bill of Rights protects an individual from the American Government. It embraces a
theory that everyone has a right to pursue one’s own “vision of a good life.” (Humber 54)
This includes the right to make your own decisions regarding your own body. Without
committing itself to the legality of the issue of PAS, the Supreme Court of the United
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