The Ethical Dilemma in Physician Assisted Suicide

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Physician-assisted suicide occurs when a healthcare practitioner provides a patient with a lethal dose of medication so that the patient can use it to end their life at their own volition. According to McGowan (2017), the practice of physicians availing the means to die to their patient usually occurs when the latter is suffering from an incurable disease and has the choice to prolong their life or die before time. The idea here is that it is ethical for a person suffering from a chronic illness and has six or fewer months to live to choose to end their suffering by asking their doctor to help them end their life. However, even though an individual has the right to choose what to do with their body, it seems unethical for a doctor whose primary purpose is to provide healthcare and prolong human life to be the one to participate in ending life.

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The ethical dilemma in the practice of physician assisted suicide stems from the idea that such a practice occurs at the expense of proper end-of-life care. One side of the ethical argument is that individuals should be allowed to choose how and when to die in instances where they are suffering from chronic diseases. The rationale here is that a chronically ill people often suffer from high levels of physical pain because of the effects their illnesses have on their bodies (Smith, 2017). Moreover, such patients and their families often suffer emotionally, given that the family members often feel sorry to see their loved ones being so helpless. Patients and their families also suffer from financial burdens brought about by the cost of providing medical care. In this case, it appears ethical and rational for patients to seek the assistance of their doctors in hastening their death so as to avoid the high levels of suffering inflicted on patients and their families even though they know that the patient will die within a short time. The basic argument for supporters of physician assisted suicide is that the autonomy and individual liberty of a suffering person should be respected by the physician who should in turn exercise non-maleficence for patients with extreme suffering (Hosseini, 2012).

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Nonetheless, opponents of physician assisted suicide insist that with the modern-day advances in the medical field, chronically ill patients do not have to suffer until they die. According to Hosseini (2012), being ethical is to be professionally dedicated to a set of standards and values which in the medical field, is primarily to preserve human life. According to McGowan (2017), such a commitment to their profession is the reason why healthcare professionals readily embrace such medical technologies as life support systems to keep patients alive. It, therefore, follows that a chronically ill person should be provided with the highest quality of palliative care to ensure that their physical and emotional pain is minimized as much as possible (Sulmasy & Mueller, 2017). However, according to quote, good quality palliative care continues to be costly and evasive for most patients suffering from chronic illnesses especially in the United States. The implication here is that if medical practitioners ensured that their patients had access to the best quality palliative care, then the latter would not have to result to being assisted to die in order to escape their suffering. In this case, opponents of physician assisted suicide suggest that the practice should only be allowed if a patient chooses to be assisted to die even after being provided with the best palliative care available.

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  1. Hosseini, H. M. (2012). Ethics, the Illegality of Physician Assisted Suicide in the United States, and the Role and Ordeal of Dr. Jack Kevorkian before his Death. Review of European Studies, 4(5), 203.
  2. McGowan, K. (2017). Physician Assisted Suicide a Constitutional Right? The Catholic Lawyer, 37(3), 225-259.
  3. Smith, W. M. (2017). The Ethical and Economic Concerns of Physician Assisted Suicide. Augustana Center for the Study of Ethics Essay Content. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.augustana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1010&context=ethicscontest.
  4. Sulmasy, L., & Mueller, P. (2017). Ethics and the Legalization of Physician-Assisted Suicide: An American College of Physicians Position Paper. Ann Intern Med, 167(8), 576–578.
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