Should Physician Assisted Suicide Be Legal?
The question of whether a person should have the right to choose when to die has gained significance within the public domain not only in the United States but across boarders with different nations and individuals taking varying stances. Is it wrong to die? Is death a crime? Should people be assisted to die and commit suicide? These are among questions which have remained controversial in the understanding of the concept of assisted suicide. It is clear that everybody has the right to live. Many laws and constitutions always protect the life of citizens under whichever circumstances. However, there have been arguments that people should be allowed to terminate their lives under certain conditions as defined by assisted suicide proponents (Marzilli, 2004). The question of whether assisted suicide should be legalized has always been based on existing advantages and disadvantages of the practice. Why should a person be helped to die when they have the right to live? Most laws in the world prohibit assisted suicide with very few nations allowing Euthanasia as a way of relieving people from incurable illnesses. How ethical or unethical is assisted suicide? It is in this regard that this paper explores facts and reasons for and against the practice as argued globally
As mentioned above, the concept of assisted suicide is one of the most controversial debates in human history. How important is human life? When should it be terminated? Who should decide when a person should die? The understanding of these questions is quite essential in the comprehension of the legality of assisted suicide commonly referred to as euthanasia.
Why assisted suicide should not be legalized
Medicine is one of the professions with dignity and respect in the world. Many lives have been saved by doctors through committed and sincere service delivery. On the other hand, countless people have lost their lives in the hands of doctors. Like other people employed in different departments, doctors have a code of ethics which determine their actions especially with regard to the life of a patient. A major component of doctors’ code of ethics is the Hippocratic Oath which is usually signed by every doctor immediately after receiving a degree (Jonsen, 2006). The basis of the oath is to ensure that doctors do not perform any form of harm to patients. If the code of ethics for doctors does not allow harm to patients, what would legalization of assisted suicide do to patients? Assisting suicide would be nothing but a violation of the oath which guards the rights of patients from being harmed by doctors. This would further lead to the disintegration of doctor-patient trust which has been witnessed throughout history. The main purpose of the oath was to reassure patients that doctors had no intention of doing harm to them other than giving treatment in a safe and professional way. Such legalization would dump patients in the valley of hopelessness and wonder.
Additionally, assisted suicide erodes the value of human life which is so precious and whose value cannot be precisely determined. Human life means much more than just choosing to live or die (Hillyard & Dombrink, 2001). There is mourning when lives are lost for several days and months. Considering the loss of over 3,000 people during the 9/11 attack in the United States, there were condolence messages from every part of the world together with donations. These are true indicators of the value of life and how human beings have to respect and guard it from any form of harm. On the other hand, life is not valued in some nations and among certain groups of people. There are people and groups which celebrate when life is lost through blasts and other terror attacks. Many terrorists consider life as a simple science experiment which can be tested and discarded. This completely undermines the sanctity and purpose of life. Contrary to many believes, life is not just a combination of biological cells. Legalization of assisted suicide would therefore promote unwarranted deaths and killings. There would be enormous cases of suicide bombers since life would loose the meaning it has (Bergen, 2009).
In addition, Euthanasia legalization would lead to an increase in the number of patient suicide cases and other related abuses. By lessening assisted suicide laws, many patients and other individuals would misuse it through misinterpretation leading to careless loss of life. For example, there are countless people around the world who are suffering from psychological problems and illnesses which are manageable. In the presence of such law which allows assisted death, such people would convince doctors to qualify for induced death. It may lead to random committing of suicide without any justifiable reason. Moreover, many patients would not be patient enough to go through the healing and recovery processes some of which take a long period of time (Harris, 2005). For example many patients would prefer to die than to endure suffering and pain caused by treatable diseases which may require longer time for complete recovery to take place. As a result, the time for the patient to spend with his or her family is eliminated leaving. It may also deny doctors and other medical practitioners time for them to identify and correct the errors made during the entire process of treatment.
It is worth double emphasizing that doctors are very important people when it comes to matters of life and death. Because of their professional qualification, they are trusted to promote the health and life of patients. Consequently, legalization of assisted suicide would be giving excess powers to doctors which may be a risk factor to many people (Ondrey, 2006). Many doctors usually win the trust of not only patients but also family members and friends. If a doctor makes a death decision from a personal point of view, idea may easily be adopted by family members of the patients when there was no justifiable reason for assisted suicide. Like other human beings, doctors make mistakes in terms of diagnosis and prescription of drugs. By allowing assisted suicide, doctors may help people to die who had considerable survival chances. Secondly, some doctors may choose to play God by deciding who will die who to survive. Due to shortage of resources or manpower, doctors may choose to kill patients who are in urgent medication as a shortcut of dealing with prevailing conditions in the health system.
Although many assisted suicide argue that it is a solution to terminal illness, it would be difficult to differentiate terminal from non-terminal conditions. A good example is the definition given by Dr. Jack Kevorkian in 1992 who described terminal illness as any disease that limits life even in a single day. Other people define it as a condition which would result in death after a period of say six months. Without a concise recognized definition of terminal illness, the idea may be quiet misinterpreted and misleading. A doctor may come up with his or her own definition of terminal when the case was not justifiable to be classified as terminal. This would lead to death of people under unfair conditions. Suicide and killing of any form is against religious teachings. Many religions if not all believe in the sanctity of life and that life is a gift from God. As a result, no human being has the right of taking away a person’s life or helping patients to commit suicide regardless of the prevailing conditions. It is clear that legalization of assisted suicide would put the life of patients and devalue life significantly (Weinberg, 1998). On the other people, there are people and organizations which have always advocated for euthanasia as a way of ending patients’ life. Are there arguments justifiable? Is helping a person to die ethical?
Why assisted suicide should be legalized
Assisted suicide is seen as away of saving patients from extreme pain resulting from diseases like cancer which are incurable or take several years to heal. As a professional doctor, it is very possible to recognize curable and incurable ailments. From this analogy, it is possible for doctors to tell the end times of a patient and be able to tell that a given patient cannot survive under whichever circumstances. It would be quite painful and agonizing to vomit and cough for a whole year. It is also important to consider psychological problems from which patients are able to tell their minimal survival chances. Assisted suicide would therefore be a more humane approach of giving patients the opportunity to decide their fate (Humphrey, 2002).
It is further arguable that the right and freedom to live is a personal decision which should not be interfered by state laws. A choice between dyeing and living should be left in the hands of individual patients and their family members (Medina, 2005). This can only be effective if assisted suicide is legalized. Many pro euthanasia activists argue that loss of an individual’s life is not a national loss and should be left in the hands of victims to make final decisions. It should be considered as a fundamental right which is free from state interference. This would further help patients to die with total dignity instead of enduring pain that reduces them to mere shells and bags of pain. Many patients find it impossible to help themselves, calling for the attention of a nurse to be in charge of them. Some conditions like Alzheimer’s cause loss of memory among patients making them not have an idea of what happened in their entire lifetime. It is the desire of every family member to see their patients die with their normal dignity and self worth.
Another reason why assisted suicide has to be legalized is to promote reduction of medical care. Many people spent their salaries and resources trying to save patients who cannot survive (Balkin, 2005). Consider a case where a patient needs several surgical operations, special breathing and feeding equipment. Most of these processes are quite and yet most of these patients do not survive. Legalization of assisted suicide would ensure that such funds are used to do something else other than wasting on irreversible conditions. Similarly, doctors, nurses and other employees who spent their time taking care of such patients would be utilized in saving patients with curable medical conditions.
Assisted suicide remains a controversial topic of discussion throughout the world. However, the question of legalizing or criminalizing euthanasia remains rests on the basic understanding of humanity and origin of life. Doctors do not manufacture life; they are professionally endowed with knowledge to treat the sick. There is every need to respect life and guard it regardless of the existing conditions.
Suicide can be defined as violence considered deadly against one self. Many cases of suicides are experienced daily in all parts of the world. In a general perspective, suicide is seen to be caused by a wide range of factors. According to studies done earlier, it was found out that many suicides and attempts are caused by financial difficulties, relationship breakups, and social problems.
Many youths who are in relationships end up being disappointed and heart broken by their counterparts. When such cases occur, some people cannot keep up with all the stresses that come along with it and they end up committing suicide. Some people cannot control their emotions and look at such break ups as the end of their lives. They believe they cannot do anything without those whom they break up with. Since many people tend to trust their partners so much, they cannot take in any kind of disappointment that come up in their relationships.
Many incidences have been seen where a person hangs himself or herself because they found their partners with other people especially in compromising states or they receive messages that their relationships were no more. Many young people have been found to be victims of these incidences. Some are not mature enough to know how to deal with such cases of relationships break up and may see themselves as useless and no meaning in life if they don’t have certain people as part of them in their lives. Moreover, cases of suicides are frequent with unmarried than those who are married.
Another factor that has been found to be a cause of suicide is economic cycles. Due to lack of employment in many countries all over the world, people get frustrated because they cannot make ends meet. When a person fails to get the very basic needs, they tend to lose hope in life. People will not help to see other people get on with good lives when they themselves hardly get a meal in a week. When a man cannot provide for his family for example, he feels useless and would not withstand the shame. Some end up committing suicide as a way of not facing the community and being referred to as a failure. Sometimes a person may be in debts and is not in a position to repay due to lack of income, such person will not stand to see the people he owes come to him every day and even harass him. Due to this, such a person may decide to commit suicide.
Occupation is another factor that has greatly caused suicide and suicide attempts. People who have low-paying jobs with high external supervision and many responsibilities to take care of tend to commit suicide compared to those having well paying jobs, promotions, and good paths of careers. In addition, demotion in job places can make a person commit suicide. People who are used to high life standards will not tolerate how people around him would treat him. He will see it as a downfall and may not be able to maintain his living standards. They find their self-image as being impaired and their self worth is negatively evaluated and rejected. When this occurs, such victims tend to be prone to suicidal acts since they tend to have a high sense of anomie and alienation that result into decrease in their level in social integration in the society.
Although not to high extent, Ethnicity and migration is seen to cause suicides in some parts of the world. When people migrate from one part to another, they lose the social tie they had with their neighbors. They at times get it difficult to move into the new society. Other than this, the immigrants may get mental illnesses due to social isolation in the new society maybe due to cultural and other differences and end up in suicide. In addition, temporal variation, locality, and public welfare are minor causes of suicides.
Other than these social precipitating factors in suicide, we also have cultural factors that are seen to be the major causes of suicides. Most countries are dominated by extended family lives. This leads to individual concerns being overridden by family loyalty. In some parts, the cultural position of a woman in marriage is a major factor that causes increased suicides number in women compared to that of their male counterparts. Some countries still practice arranged marriages where a woman is married to a man of family choice against her wish. Some of these marriages turn abusive and women end up committing suicide. Some women are driven into suicide especially when they are harassed due to dowry expectation not being met by their families.
Not only in forced marriages do we experience suicide incidences. We also get them when there is family opposition of marriage between some partners. When parents of an individual are against their relationship with another, these people may end up committing suicide or even both of them committing at the same time. This is however, experienced in the rural areas compared to in the urban areas. This is because of the woman’s position in a traditional society. A woman’s economical and social status is challenging whether married or not. Other than the cultural position of a woman in a rural set up, most victims in the rural areas get access to many materials that can be used for suicide.
For many young people especially those in school, they always get pressure to perform well in their examinations. In case they unfortunately fail, they cannot take in the shame and they end up committing suicide. According to previous research, it was noted that there is a stiff competition for good university or college places. If a person fails to attain the minimum grade that will enable him/her to join such institutions, they consider themselves as failure and may end up in suicide to avoid shame.
Throughout an individual’s life, Social factors are of great influence to health status, poor social circumstances therefore are detrimental to a person’s health. Health is a state in which a person is free from diseases/infection. A person’s health is influenced by several factors, they can either be social, physical, or psychological. Considering a social ladder, people who are at the bottom will always have a low life expectancy than those at a higher level. Psychological and social circumstances can result in long-term strain on an individual hence his/her health. Continuing insecurity, anxiety, and low self-esteem are harmful to human health. When these psychological and social stresses are accumulated, it may result in reduced mental health and subsequent premature deaths.
Social factors which put an individual into a particular social class influence a person’s health to a large extent, some people value body size and body image especially in areas where there is little food while those in places of plenty food will value body size negatively and even chances of obesity expected (Bude, 2008). This is considered as a threat to the health of an individual. On the other hand, People of high socioeconomic status have a high accessibility to medical attention every time. This gives them a chance to prevent any infection before attacks. This therefore keeps them at a high health standard compared to those of low economic status who may not be in a position to even get treatment when sick. More specifically housing as a social factor is very important for good health. How and where people live accounts for their health state. Poor housing may lead to poor health due to susceptibility to diseases. If people live in unwell ventilated house, leaking, or poor drainage systems, they can easily get infected with diseases related to poor hygiene.
Physical factors influence health of an individual. One of these factors is the environment surrounding an individual. There are different components in the environment we live. Clean and polluted environments are the major dynamic characteristics we face every day. A person exposed to a highly polluted environment is highly exposed to many respiratory diseases compared to a person in a clean environment hence, good health. Another physical factor is exercise; a person who takes regular exercise is healthier than a person who does not. Exercise helps to breakdown fats and hence assimilation of food consumed every day. Diet, Smoking , and alcohol consumption are other factors that influence a person’s health. People who take unbalanced diets, smoke or consume alcohol have high risks of infection by diseases hence poor health. Unbalanced diets lead to poor health and those who smoke get lung diseases like lung cancer. Alcohol consumption leads to infections of the liver like cirrhosis hence poor health and death.
In conclusion, suicides are caused by different factors, which can be social, economical, or cultural. These factors affect people of different ages, adolescents through the old. Most people have failed to control these factors leading them to suicide and hence its existence to date. On the other hand, physical, social, and psychological factors are of great influence to human health.