Terminally Ill People

Terminally Ill People

The debate on whether or not those considered terminally ill should be allowed to end their lives has been ongoing for a long time. Those in support of physician-assisted suicide continue to advance various viewpoints in support of their assertions. However, those of a contrary opinion advance equally compelling reasons as they seek to oppose physician-assisted suicide. In this text, I explore the various issues revolving around physician-assisted suicide and why in my opinion terminally ill patients should be allowed to end their own lives.

Physician-Assisted Suicide: A Concise Definition

According to Bryant, the terms physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia can in most contexts be used interchangeably (424). In Bryant's own words, "in physician-assisted suicide, the physician actively provides the patient with the means to end his or her life, usually by prescribing or providing a lethal dose of a medication that the patient independently ingests" (424).

Physician-Assisted Suicide: The Debate

Arguments and counter arguments for and against physician-assisted suicide have been floated for a long period of time. It is our narrow minded perspectives of the issues at hand that keep us from embracing physician-assisted suicide.

As the debate rages on, terminally ill patients continue to wallow in pain and agony. Families also suffer emotional distress as they continue to care for critically ill patients. In most cases, these families are left destitute after the eventual death of the patient. In my opinion, terminally ill patients should be allowed to decide when and how they want to die. Advancements in technology have brought about numerous benefits most particularly in the heath care sector. Today, unlike three decades ago, technology has given medical practitioners the power to save lives as well as significantly reduce the suffering of patients. Further, technology has also given us the power to prolong the life of terminally ill patients even when it is clear that the health of such patients cannot be restored. For instance, thanks to technology, it is now possible to put patients whose mental as well as physical capabilities cannot be restored on a life support machine for a long period of time. In such a case, the conditions of such patients may continue to degenerate. Such patients in my opinion are entitled to some level of dignity at the end of life by allowing them to end their suffering via physician-assisted suicide. My assertion is in this case supported by Bryant who points out that many people do not want to be "forced to continue an existence that has lost all meaning" (425).

Secondly, by denying terminally ill individuals the right to die, we are essentially suppressing individual choice. Indeed, as Devettere points out, the right of people to decide the way in which they want to live or die remains a primary argument presented by those in support of physician-assisted suicide (334). In my opinion, individuals must and should be left alone to make their own choices as long as they do not occasion harm to others. This is more so the case if those choices touch on their own dignity and well-being i.e. In those instances where an individual has a terminal illness. If individuals are allowed autonomy in the management of their families, there is no reason whatsoever to deny them autonomy in the management of their lives. In that regard, terminally ill patients should not be accorded the right to decide on whether or not their lives are worth living

I am also convinced that as compassionate beings mindful of the well-being of our neighbors, we have an obligation to minimize, offset or eliminate the pain and suffering of others. Patients suffering from terminal diseases need our intervention. As I have already pointed out elsewhere in this text, some terminal illnesses are painful and agonizing to those suffering from them. Physician-assisted suicide can be viewed as an important tool to alleviate this pain and suffering.

Dissenting Views

Given the factors I have presented above on the need to allow or permit physician-assisted suicide, it would also be prudent to take into consideration the other side of the coin. The two arguments I present in this section are the most commonly cited by those opposed to physician-assisted suicide.

To begin with, there are those who are concerned that allowing or legalizing physician-assisted suicide will somehow open the floodgates for 'death on demand' thus effectively destroying the sanctity of human life. Indeed, as Kopelman and De Ville point out, some are worried that the legalization of physician-assisted suicide will effectively erode the respect we all have for human life (72). Those advancing this line of thought referred to as the slippery slope argument are apparently concerned that once we allow terminally ill individuals to end their own lives, we will by default gravitate "towards ever wider killing" (Kopelman and De Ville, 72). This assertion has not been supported by any hard evidence so far.

The other significant argument against physician-assisted suicide presented by those who are in opposition of the same is the possibility of abuse. Viewed as yet another version of the slippery slope argument, Battin points out that there are concerns that allowing physician-assisted suicide to take root in society could slowly lead to outright abuse of the same (93). According to Kopelman and De Ville, one of the ways in which abuse could arise in this case is when a patient cannot make a decision for him or herself and hence a surrogate decision maker is called upon to make that critical decision (64). In such a case, a surrogate could make a decision which is in his or her best interests as opposed to those of the patient i.e. In those instances where the surrogate stands to benefit (e.g. via inheritance) should the patient die. Taken from a narrow perspective, this argument has its merits. However, from a broader perspective, this argument like many others presented in opposition to physician-assisted suicide fails to take into consideration the role played by stringent regulations governing every aspect of physician-assisted suicide. Further, not every patient lacks the ability to make his or her own decisions. Such an argument should therefore not be used to facilitate blanket condemnation on physician-assisted suicide. As I will demonstrate elsewhere in this text, with proper guidelines in place, physician-assisted suicide need not be subject to abuse.

Proposed Solutions

In my opinion, the only way to accord dignity to terminally ill patients is to allow doctors to prescribe drugs to those who want to end their own lives. However, it is important to note that in an attempt to avert abuse, the relevance of safeguards in this case cannot be overstated. These safeguards will ensure that physician-assisted suicide does not open the flood gates for 'death on demand.' Laws need to be enacted to ensure that those who are allowed to end their lives are the terminally ill patients alone. Currently, only three states in the U.S. permit physician-assisted suicide. Based on the arguments I have already presented elsewhere in this text, I am convinced that more states should embrace the concept of physician-assisted suicide. The U.S. can learn valuable lessons from countries that permit physician-assisted suicide or those that are moving towards the same. One of the prominent organizations that have been pushing for the legalization of physician-assisted suicide particularly in the U.K. is the Independent Commission on Assisted Dying. According to Beckford, some of the commission's members are well-known medics. Several months ago, the commission published a report whereby it called for substantive changes in the legal framework so as to set pace for the adoption of coherent and adequate laws governing physician-assisted suicide. With a well-drafted legal framework in place, misuse of physician-assisted suicide will be highly unlikely.

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