Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide

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Introduction

Physician Assisted Suicide has been one of the most controversial subjects for years. Stemming all the way back to 1997, when the state of Oregon became the first state to legalize it. Physician Assisted Suicide is known as euthanasia and has raised many different questions throughout time.

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One of the biggest questions raised however is this; Is euthanasia ethically acceptable? Suicide in its self is considered wrong in ethical views, for one must honor the value of a human life. One must think about the terminally ill patients that are suffering though. Even if it might hurt other people, but it puts the patient at rest, is it ethically acceptable for a patient to receive physician assisted suicide? If one fully analyzes euthanasia using the ethical theory of utilitarianism, then one would conclude that John Mill would solve the dilemma by asking if this act would result in happiness free of pain.

What is Euthanasia?

Euthanasia is defined as the humane and painless killing of a patient that is suffering from a life ending and painful disease. Currently legal in only eight U.S. jurisdictions, it is a highly controversial topic. Euthanasia is only legal for the patient however. A physician may prescribe the lethal drugs, but there are no circumstances under which they are able to administer the drugs themselves. The steps to administer the medication are not sweet and simple though. There are various parameters that a patient must meet before a doctor is allowed to prescribe the life ending medication. The first rule that must be met is that the patient must be an adult. Two independent physicians must then verify the patientr’s terminal diagnosis. Both of them must be fully convinced that the patient has no hope of getting any better. A written request must then be signed by the patient in front of two witnesses. This request attests that the patient is in a healthy mental state and that they are doing this voluntarily. If there is any question about the mental state of the patient, then the physician may require the patient to be counseled. Once all of these parameters have been met, then the physician will prescribe the drug. As stated above, the physician in no case is allowed to administer the drug, but he/she prescribes it and the patient picks it up from the pharmacy. None of 1the laws on physician assisted suicide state which drug the doctor prescribes, but according to the article FAQs Physician-Hastened Death, most doctors prescribe an oral dosage of a barbiturate (FAQS-Physician-Hastened Death, par 14). Barbiturates are a drug that are used as depressants of the central nervous system (Barbiturates Drug Profile, par. 3). The brain controls the central nervous system, it tells the lungs to breath and tells the heart to beat. When it is suppressed a little it can be beneficial by lowering anxiety and making a person more relaxed. If it is suppressed too far, which is what happens with barbiturate, the whole system begins to shut down. The patient soon becomes unconscious and shortly after the heart stops beating and the lungs stop breathing, resulting in death.

The Dilemma

As stated by Michael Cholbi, Suicide is wrong because it violates our moral duty to honor the value of a human life (Cholbi, par. 25). Viewing life in the terms of Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill was one of the most influential philosophers of the 19th century. Millr’s core belief is that a person should try to reach happiness. He defines happiness as this, a person should do what brings them pleasure without any pain. By this he means that a person should do what pleases them without bringing pain to others. In the view of assisted suicide this view can be a little two-sided. When a terminally ill person wishes to end their life, on their terms and in the place they wish to be, it could bring happiness and a sense of satisfaction to them, However, the people around them, friends and family, might be affected. Many of them may wish to keep their dying loved one in their life for as long as possible. Many patients that are terminally ill however discuss assisted suicide with their loved ones before they make the decision. The people closest to them would know from personal experience how much pain that they are in, they would know how much suffering they go through every day. Death isnt something anyone can post-pone. Everyday people die, suddenly and unexpected, and then there are the cases where it is slow and painfully expected. However, can it ever be considered morally correct to end a human life? Now the question every person has to ask themselves is this; if it was known that death was ahead, and there was nothing more the doctors could do to save this life, with immense amounts of pain, would suffering with no more energy and hope left to fight be worth it? Each person will have their own independent views on the morality of physician assisted suicide, but how would it be viewed in utilitarianism?

Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism is the ethical theory that determines whether an action is right or wrong solely on the consequences of the actions. It does not simply focus on one personr’s interests, but instead it looks at how an action might affect the people around them, close friends and family. So if an action is going to hurt the people that are closest to that person then the action would be considered morally wrong, however, if the action had no affect on others or it had a positive affect on others then it would be considered morally correct. In the terms of physician assisted suicide, it could go either way on whether it is right or wrong considering the conditions of the situation. Many factors could make physician assisted suicide, in the views of utilitarianism, morally correct. If a patient was all alone for instance, no family or friends, no one that could be hurt by their death, then it would be considered morally ok. By the patient taking the drug and ending their life, with no one there that could be affected or hurt, there are no reasons that it would be wrong. Sure, there is the part of suicide is wrong because a person isnt valuing a human life, but if the human life is deteriorating and coming to an end as is, then where is the problem? Another way that assisted suicide could be considered morally ok is if the patient actually sits down and talks with their family and friends. So many people are terminally ill and suffering day to day waiting for the end to come. This isnt a life anyone would want to live, and when considering it, its not a life you would want a loved one suffering through. If the patient were to discuss their wish with their loved ones and give them time to prepare and understand then it could be considered ok. Death is going to hurt people no matter what, it hurts when someone that youre so close with is no longer in your life. It also hurts seeing someone youre so close with suffer day in and day out. If the patient and the loved ones were to agree that it was best for physician assisted suicide to occur, then there wouldnt be a moral problem in the view of utilitarianism.

Physician Assisted Suicide can be considered morally wrong in the views of utilitarianism as well. Its one of those if/then situations. If the patient were to go about physician assisted suicide without the family or friendr’s knowledge, thatr’s where a morality problem would come in. A patient that legally ends their own life, with only the knowledge of the doctors, while leaving the loved ones completely in the dark, would have performed a morally unjust act. The family and friends would be even more hurt with this type of death than with a natural death. As said before death hurts no matter what, but with the chance to say goodbye and make peace it wouldnt be as bad. In the above case where the patient talked with the family the situation was different. The family and friends were given time to prepare, they agreed to losing the patient earlier than expected, but they knew, and they were ready. In a case where friends and family didnt know until after the fact, so much more pain and suffering would be experienced. Taking it upon their self to end their life, without giving the people that would be affect most a chance to prepare, and hurting them so much more, would make physician assisted suicide extremely wrong in the views of morality and utilitarianism. A sense of happiness may have occurred for the patient, but so much more pain would have been experience by those closest to them.

Conclusion

Every life is considered to be sacred, a value that one should hold above all others. Everyday people die, and everyday people are born, but everyday there are also people that suffer from a terminal illness. Getting access to physician assisted suicide is no easy act, and not just any person can do it. A life is always sacred and should always be valued, but the purpose and happiness in that life should also be taken into consideration. Utilitarianism is an if/then theory when it comes to moral values. If the action results in happiness free of pain it is morally correct, if it results in happiness but pain to others it is morally wrong. In the case of assisted suicide, it is a complex subject with so many different variables that can affect the moral value of the act. Every decision one makes and the results which occur decide whether this act is morally ok in Utilitarianism.

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