person is in inexorable pain, suffering physically and even mentally, with no hope for recovery, should they be able to seek surcease through death? What is the physician's responsibility when they can not assuage their patient's suffering? Is their duty to prolong basic bodily functions, or is their duty to stop pain? If a patient seeks death, and is unable to obtain the means to bring an end to their suffering themselves, does their physician have an ethical obligation to provide them with those tools, even if these tools bring about the patient's death? According to John Lachs, Peter Singer, and others, the case for answering yes to the questions above, from both a hedonistic utilitarian and preference utilitarian perspective, is strong. Physician-assisted suicide should be legal and patients suffering from intolerable pain should be free to choose death over a life of agony.
The right of self-determination. How far does a human being's autonomy extend? Certainly, it would be foolhardy to state that a person's right to self-determination is absolute; society would cease to function smoothly if we respected the rights of robbers to be robbers and murderers to be murderers. It is safe to say a person's right to self-determination ends when their actions impinge upon another person's right to autonomy. However, the decision to end one's own life does not interfere with another person's rights or liberties in any way. From a utilitarian perspective, an act is morally right, "If the consequences of that action are more favorable than unfavorable to everyone." (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Certainly if an otherwise healthy person chose to end their life on a whim, it could be argued that the consequences of that choice would be negative to that person's friends, family member, employers, people in his or her employ, etc. However, when a patient with a terminal illness or terminal pain chooses to end their life, the distinction is less clear. Terminal illness devastates not only the patient, but their loved ones who have to witness the suffering helplessly. When the end result is death, and the interim is only agony, hastening death in a peaceful way benefits everyone. If the patient wishes to end their life, therefore, from a utilitarian perspective, this act would be morally correct.
It can be argued that in the case of physician-assisted suicide, that because the doctor is the one bringing about the death, this is, "a fundamental moral wrong' -that of one person giving over 'his life and fate to another." (Lachs, 4). But people assign others their rights all the time, and they are free to do so; this is part of autonomy. If a person is a homeowner, they are free to let whomever they wish live in that home, with the occupant enjoying all the benefits of that home. Similarly, one allows schools to act in loco parentis with their children. Are we to say that a terminally ill patient surrenders the ability to assign their rights simply because they are in pain? If a terminally ill patient has the desire to die but lacks the means to do so, the obvious person to deliver those means is their physician. Furthermore, the patient has already assigned the rights of care to their physician; it is an extension of that care to end the patient's suffering if they so choose. The modern version of the Hippocratic Oath reads, "But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God." What could be more defined as "playing God" than denying a patient's own wishes to end their suffering, even when the physician is unable to alleviate their anguish and pain?
If allowing a terminally ill…