Physician-assisted suicide is a widely discussed controversial issue in society today. There are debates over whether it is ethically correct, and whether or not assisted suicide should be legalized for the terminally ill. Each side of the argument has different viewpoints on each individual aspect of physician-assisted suicide, such as guidelines that should exist if legalized. Advocates of physician-assisted suicide argue that it should be legal under circumstances such as great suffering through terminal illness, however, no matter what the circumstance is, physician-assisted suicide is not a good remedy for terminal illnesses and therefore should not be legalized.
There is the argument that under specific conditions, physician-assisted suicide should be legal and therefore will be an acceptable and safe practice. Those both in in favor and in opposition of the legalization of physician-assisted suicide “agree that legislation could pose a risk to the public, especially those who are most vulnerable” (Robinson, 2012, p.2). However, advocates contend that although the public will be more susceptible to risks, protection can be available through the use of guidelines, or safeguards. A guideline that many supporters claim is that physicians need to carry assisted-suicide out in a professionally responsible way (Groenewoud, 2000, p .1). The use and preparation of drugs are to specifically be outlined as well as the manner in which the drugs are given. The proponents of assisted-suicide also insist that there is no evidence of risks in “Oregon-style assisted dying”, which refers to the legalization of physician-assisted suicide (Robinson, 2012, p.3). Research shows that when in comparison “with the general population, there was no evidence that the legalization of PAS decreases the risk for vulnerable groups” (Robinson, 2012, p. 3). Indicating that if the assistance in death were to be legalized, the especially vulnerable groups would still be at risk, regardless of what the advocates are trying to claim.
Another argument that advocates make is that the terminally ill should have access to physician-assisted suicide. Supporters concede that it is best to relieve those of “grave suffering” (Lesser, 2009, p. 2). Terminally ill people typically experience symptoms such as weakness, pain, and depression that affect them significantly in their final days (Quill, 2003, p. 2). By giving them access to physician-assisted suicide procedures, these patients will be able to alleviate these symptoms and hasten their death. Proponents of legalization base their argument off the fact that people who are terminally ill do not see the extension of their life as a benefit anymore, but rather as a burden (Hawkins, 2002, p. 15). In short, it is proposed that the physician-assisted suicide should be legal under circumstances such as the people who are terminally ill and experiencing suffering. On the contrary, many people believe that physician-assisted suicide should not be legal under any conditions or circumstances. Non-supporters argue that assisted-suicide poses a risk to the public, especially those “who are old, depressed, cognitively impaired, disabled, or dependent on others for their care needs” (Robinson, 2012, p. 2). All of these kinds of people undergo psychological distress which make them more apt to experience clinical depression, making them extremely vulnerable (Robinson, 2012, p. 2). Suicidal thoughts and desires occur in many people who have clinical depression, by legalizing physician-assisted suicide, anyone who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts could go and kill themselves legally with the help of their doctor. Advocates say that this ease of gaining access will be prevented because there will be guidelines and certain circumstances in which assisted suicide will be able to be utilized. Nevertheless, assisted suicide laws cannot be written to prevent abuse. There is no foolproof way to legalize assisted suicide without opening it to potential abuse (St. Clair, 2006, p.2). Although it may require multiple doctors to sign off on the suicide or a psychiatric evaluation before it can occur, that is not enough to prevent misconduct. For example, a doctor could “sign off” on a form without actually examining the patient. In one case, a Dutch doctor hurried a suicide along just because he needed the room and bed for another patient (St. Clair, 2006, p. 2). Non-supporters insist that misconduct and corruption will never be able to be prevented once the door for legalized suicide is opened.
Terminally ill people do go through suffering, however, legalizing assisted-suicide and following through with it interrupt a natural path to wisdom. The end of life is a special time “‘which is just as important as rejoicing in the birth of a baby’” (qtd. in Malpas et al. 2014, p.3). When people are near death, they are on a natural path to wisdom. At the end of one’s life, things become better and faster because people learn how to prioritize, and become more authentic (St. Clair, 2006, p. 3). Basically, many dying patients realize so many things about themselves, and their true meaning of life when it is near their time to pass. Yes, there will be a time when patients experience sorrow, grief and regret, but they will eventually reach their fullest potential and wisdom. With the legalization of physician-assisted suicide, the potential that people have to come to their final realizations is limited as they almost feel a pressure by their loved ones to end their lives (St Clair, 2006, p.4). To summarize the argument of those who are in opposition of physician-assisted suicide, no matter what conditions are put forward and no matter how much suffering one is experiencing, assisted-suicide should not be legal.
Physician-assisted suicide continually proves to not be a good remedy for those with terminal illnesses. Opponents argue that there are an increasing prevalence of technical problems and complications within the completion of the procedure (Hawkins 2002, p.57). Many of times physicians will have difficulty finding a vein to inject the drug into or will have trouble administering an oral form of the drug. In this case, patients may experience nausea, vomiting, muscle spasms, or “myoclonus” (Groenewoud, 2000, p.4). In other cases, there was a “longer-than-expected” interval between the time that the drug was given and the time of death, or a failure to induce a comatose state (Groenewoud, 2000, p.4). Sometimes, a patient may have to take a second or third dose of the drug in order for it to work properly. The point that opponents concede is that, if physicians cannot seem to find a drug that correctly does the job intended, then the procedure should not be legal.
The practice of physician-assisted suicide opens the doors for abuse and allows society to widely accept suicide as “okay”. I believe that the argument for assisted suicide is all based on emotion, and with something that is bound to constantly change, there is no way to make an unstable concept like physician-assisted suicide legal. The points that all the non-supporters make are very true, and I find it very intriguing that people reach their fullest potential right before their death, so who are we to impose a law that gives them the right to take that away? The advocates for physician-assisted suicide argue that under certain conditions, legal suicide will be okay, however, ending one’s life with the help of the doctor does not prove to be a good way to treat terminal illness. Many people with terminal illnesses are incapable of making decisions for themselves, a lot of the time they face pressure from their loved ones or even their physicians, ultimately altering their perspective, and thus making them feel genuinely worse than before. We should not expose vulnerable people to such a significant decision, therefore by keeping physician-assisted suicide illegal, we would be protecting those who are vulnerable and the whole public as well.