In is an undeniable human right that every human being should have the right to live the way he or she wants. In some cases this may also include dying the way he or she wants. When an individual is so sick that he/she is in constant pain or in fear of dying there is something to be said for dying with dignity. That is precisely why physicians should be legally allowed to help people commit suicide in cases of life threatening chronic illness. While there are many considerations at play to ensure that physician assisted suicide is managed responsibly, with people living longer and longer lives it is an important consideration within the modern field of medicine.
There are many reasons why physician assisted suicide is needed by the population of individuals to suffer from chronic illnesses. In some instances the amount of medication needed to manage a patient’s pain is, in fact, enough to kill them. In others, the individual no longer feels they have a quality of life, i.e. they have to rely so much on others for daily acts of living that they do not feel like capable independent people any more. Often this can present as a burden for family members from a financial and physical standpoint. Of course, there is no respectful family member that would wish their relative to die however, supporting them in dying under the very circumstances they decide for themselves brings back a final sense of control and freedom that so many people see as the ultimate goal of humanity. In many ways, relatives report being happier that their loved one was able to die with dignity while still lucid instead of surviving only to undergo horrible pain and or other consequences (Meier, Emmons, Wallenstein, Quill, Morrison & Cassel, 1998). Perhaps physician assisted suicide not only benefits the individuals who are directly suffering but also family members who face the horrific emotional consequences of watching a loved one pass away slowly and under painful circumstance.
While it may be right for some people, there is much to consider in the realm of physician-assisted suicide before making the ultimate choice to practice this right. Indeed it is not the right decision for every person with an illness. Instead there should be protocols in place to help guide sick individuals and their family members in deciding what is best for the whole group of loved ones. Like any medical decision, there is a reason why “physician assisted” suicide has the name that it does. Medical professionals are educated in a wide variety of areas that help them make serious life changing decisions on a daily basis. Not only are doctors the best people to assess how life threating the disease in question is in the first place, but they are also trained in counseling and know when to refer to other counselors and social workers to help assist patients not only from a strictly medical standpoint but also from an emotional one. As such, a medical doctor is the perfect person to help guide a family through this decision (Quill, Cassel & Meier, 1992). Working within this framework, other therapeutic professionals should also be considered in the decision to the family and the individual has as much support as possible. The hospital can assist with legal matters such as helping create a living will. Psychologists and other therapists can assess that the individual is in his or her right mind when making the decision (Meier, Emmons, Wallenstein, Quill, Morrison & Cassel, 1998). Even religious aspects can be worked into the decision if the person wishes a prayer service or other spiritual support during this serious time.
The beauty of this sort of death is that it is the individual’s choice. Much like we should not force anyone to live, we should also never force someone to die. Not everyone would choose this form of death but for those individuals who need it the option should be available and doctors should not be held legally responsible for carrying out their patient’s wishes assuming that patient is in his/her right mind. Even if you disagree with the policy at the surface, just imagine spending years and years slowly dying of cancer while your family members mourn, similarly for years by your side. You are in pain and barely able to take care of yourself. Even with a vivid imagination, it is almost impossible to really know what this scenario feels like without having experienced it. Thus, it should not be the choice of healthy members of society (Emanuel, Daniels, Fairclough & Clarridge, 1996). Instead, we should allow people to make their own decisions about death and dying because no one can know what a long death feels like until it is upon them.
At first, the very idea of physician assisted suicide seems harrowing. In general, few people like to face matters of death. We are built to have a natural fear response towards death which is why it is such a new concept to think of overcoming the surprise of death and taking control of these final moments. Although we may be afraid of this choice, it is important that we forever remain calm and fight for the rights of those individuals who may not be strong enough to fight for themselves. This most certainly includes those patients who are so sick in life that death will bring peace. For those people, the ultimate comfort is being aware of the support of their family and friends and finding a time to die in which they feel dignified and comfortable.
- Emanuel, E. J., Daniels, E. R., Fairclough, D. L., & Clarridge, B. R. (1996). Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide: attitudes and experiences of oncology patients, oncologists, and the public. The Lancet, 347(9018), 1805-1810.
- Meier, D. E., Emmons, C. A., Wallenstein, S., Quill, T., Morrison, R. S., & Cassel, C. K. (1998). A national survey of physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia in the United States. New England Journal of Medicine, 338(17), 1193-1201.
- Quill, T. E., Cassel, C. K., & Meier, D. E. (1992). Care of the hopelessly ill: proposed clinical criteria for physician-assisted suicide. New England Journal of Medicine, 327(19), 1380-1384.