Physician-assisted suicide (PAS) is a topic that has ignited a relentless debate because of the argument that surrounds its execution. Assisted suicide happens when a patient shows his or her intention to die and appeals to a doctor to help him or her in this process. The recent advancement in mechanical gadgets and life-saving interventions that emanate from medical technology led to a prolonged dying process, which means the need to have end-of-life care. Medical technology has made the dying process marked by intolerable pain, incapacitations, and indignity. Patients with terminal diseases such as cancer experience intolerable and unremitted pain regardless of optimal pain control. Thus, PAS is at times employed in these cases, which is a controversial ethical and legal issue. Some countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium, the United States, and Canada have legalized PAS asserting that this is an option for prolonged suffering that patients experience and, in the end, they will die.
In physician-assisted suicide, a patient willingly instigates and executes the dying process, unlike in euthanasia in which a doctor directs the process. A physician provides the necessary information or means to support a patient carry out a life-ending act. A doctor gives the patient sleeping pills or supplies the drugs and information concerning the lethal doses. The doctor is aware that a patient can commit suicide (Pence, 2021). Even though tragic, it is notable that some patients who are experiencing intense pressure, for example, terminally ill patients can conclude that it is better to die than live.
Description of public policy debates
The public policy debate over the legality and morality of PAS is not new. For many years, PAS has had heated debates and does not show any signs to cool down soon. Many people hold diverging but equally well-considered and deeply held views about PAS.
The public debate about PAS is the objective that every patient comes to the end of life free from unending sufferings that do not serve the deepest self-defining beliefs of a patient (O’Rourke, 2019). PAS has been legalized in some states in the United States such as Oregon, Montana, Hawaii, California, Maine, New Jersey, Colorado, Washington DC, and Vermont. In 2015, Canada legalized it across the country. However, across the world restrictions differ, PAS is legal in Belgium, the Netherlands, Japan, and the United Kingdom (UK). Proponents and opponents of PAS share an essential obligation to values of care, respect, dignity, and compassion (Dugdale et al., 2019). They differ in drawing different moral decisions from the fundamental values in equally good faith.
Medical ethics develops the duties of doctors to patients and society, at times to a larger extent than the laws. The most common two arguments that support the legalization of PAS are respecting patient autonomy and a wide interpretation of a doctor’s duty to relieve a patient’s suffering (Sulmasy & Mueller, 2017). PAS supporters argue that patients’ relief from sufferings via lethal ingestion is compassionate and humane (Dugdale et al., 2019).
The most persuasive arguments made in support of PAS emanate from patients like Maynard, who are suffering from terminal diseases. Patients make healthcare decisions about life, so they should be allowed to make decisions about their deaths as well (Dugdale et al., 2019). Patients with terminal diseases such as cancer are not only in physical pain, but they are also going through suffering that affects their emotional and mental well-being. Further, PAS is a safe medical practice that involves a healthcare professional. Physicians may guarantee death in a manner that suicide in other ways cannot (O’Rourke, 2019). Many state laws recommend many safeguards to stop abuses and offer a framework for the act that some individuals may avoid, albeit dangerously or haphazardly ways.
PAS opponents offer several arguments varying from pragmatic to philosophical. The opponents argue that PAS is inconsistent with some of the professional and ethical principles. The opponents worry that the expansion of PAS could cause additional, unintentional harm via a slippery slope, suicide contagion, and the deaths of patients who suffer from depression (Sulmasy & Mueller, 2017). They argue that PAS creates non-assisted suicide more pleasant for others. Some opponents of PAS express concerns that after physicians are engaged in the hastening deaths of patients’ businesses, they would be engaging in the slippery slope. Those against PAS also argue that more than 70% of patients who decide PAS have cancer and are elderly yet fewer than 5% are referred to a psychologist or psychiatrist to rule out medical depression (Dugdale et al., 2019). They can, therefore, cause additional harm to their patients.
Physician-assisted suicide remains a contentious topic relevant to the patient’s care. However, PAS is continuing to gain acceptance in some countries across the world as it is seen as the best way to help terminally ill patients. My opinion on PAS is that I support it. I believe patients have the right to choose death over life or life over death.
Dugdale, L. S., Lerner, B. H., & Callahan, D. (2019). Pros and cons of physician aid in dying. The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 92(4), 747–750. Web.
O’Rourke, M. A. (2019). Physician-assisted suicide (PAS)/Physician aid in dying (PAD) at the end of the day. Practical Radiation Oncology, 9(6), 384-386. Web.
Pence, G. (2021). Medical ethics: Accounts of ground-breaking cases (9th ed.). McGraw Hill Education.
Sulmasey, L.S. & Mueller, P.S. (2017). Ethics and the legalization of physician-assisted suicide: an American college of physicians position paper. Annals of Internal Medicine, 167(8), 576-578. Web.