Assisted Suicide in Nursing Practice

Assisted Suicide in Nursing Practice

            “Assisted Suicide in Nursing Practice” discusses the different sides and arguments in regards to Physician Assisted Suicide, also known as PAS. The article goes through the facts and arguments on both sides of the battle, most of which involved pointing out how PAS brought along ethical and religious contradictions. Many cases were brought to light within the article, with each group fighting vigorously for what they believed in; an abundant amount of these cases were in regards to medical facilities that were already using PAS, failing to see how unethical it could be.  However, physician assisted suicide is one battle where neither side seems to be advancing much, though the battle reigns on.

            The argument of whether or not physician assisted suicide is moral and ethical, and should be legalized, is one that has been going on for centuries. For those that are in favor of PAS, they claim that it merely involves ending life in a “peaceful, painless death,” while those that oppose such practices claim that anybody who involves in any form of suicide will be condemned to hell. However, it is the latter argument that makes those that are in favor of PAS wonder if it is wise to be bringing religion into something that involves numerous people who might not share these same religious views. Other aspects that are touched upon include moral, spiritual, political, and societal issues, though each side – those in favor and those opposing – have very convincing reasons as to why their side should be considered once all has been said and done.

            One of the bigger complaints, from the opposing side, deals with the 14th Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause, which states that no state shall deny to any of its people within that jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. The opposing side feels that PAS offends this amendment, stating that the life of a human being is protected by it. Yet, the favoring side for PAS feels that by not allowing those in the medical field to perform PAS when a patient requests it, they are then offending the 14th Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause. They back up their argument by saying that those who request PAS are mentally stable and are aware of their rights, as well as the 14th Amendment; while the 14th Amendment does protect people against anything that would involve someone dying, it does not cover suicide with the assistance of someone in the medical field.

            The arguments involving the 14th Amendment have been taken to court numerous times, and the ruling has usually been the same: while it does protect the lives of the people within that state’s jurisdiction, it does not necessarily cover a person if they wish to take steps to ending their own life in a medical facility. However, this does contradict the fact that in most states, suicide is an act that can be punishable by law; ironically, in many states, attempted suicide is met with the death penalty. The clashing of the two laws has caused much controversy with both sides of the argument, as well as with those involved in the court proceedings.

            There is more controversy, again from both sides of the case, in concerns to euthanasia, or the act of letting someone die. While euthanasia is illegal in most countries, it can still be seen in acts such as taking someone off of life support, though far from being viewed as unethical, many see it as being “legally and ethically sound, […] letting one die.” Many, especially those on the favoring side, while they feel that it is a good thing for euthanasia to be illegal, it is hardly the same thing as PAS. They want to make it known that there is a difference between causing a patient to die and letting a patient die, though both of them share the similarity that the death must be arranged by the patient him or herself, and only if they are mentally sound and in their right mind enough to make such a decision.

            Currently, Oregon is the only state that is legally capable of performing PAS, due to the Death with Dignity Act that was passed in 1997. The Death with Dignity Act allows trained and certified medical professionals to assist in ending the life of a patient, but only if the patient is able to make the decision on their own. The Death with Dignity Act allows no room for blunders or mistakes, it is something that has been monitored since it first began to assure that everything is done how it should be.

            Assisted suicide is something that has been raging its own battle in my mind, and it has come to the point where I agree with it. While everybody has the right to live, regardless of their current state of health, each person also has the right to decide if they can no longer handle living with the illness that they have. It is not a matter of doing something against the will of a patient, but following through with something that a patient wants to do. Nobody has the right to tell anybody that they must be forced to live while their health is quickly deteriorating. However, I believe that other states that are willing to do so should adopt the Death with Dignity Act, to assure that no practitioner’s position is abused.

            Even though most states prohibit it, it is a common thing when a patient brings up the concept of PAS to a nurse. Regardless of the fact that a nurse can or cannot proceed with doing PAS, they are still put on the spot when a patient feels that they can no longer live out their illness. In some cases, such as those in Oregon hospitals, nurses are allowed to perform PAS, so they must be mentally and emotionally prepared when it comes to assisting one of their patients to die. Not every nurse feels capable to doing such a practice, and must therefore hand it off to someone that can; though this has nothing to do with weakness, due to the fact that not everyone in the nursing field feels comfortable with the thought of aiding in someone’s death, even if it is considered legal.

            When a state, or a hospital, legalizes PAS, it also means that nurses have to go through additional training, to cover everything from how to respond to the request of  a PAS, to being able to take the patient and their family members, to actual performing the PAS on the willing patient.

            In conclusion, it can be said that neither side of the argument for physician assisted suicide has gained any ground. Both groups offer up convincing arguments that make it difficult for any court to decide who should win. Unfortunately, most participants on the opposed side are acting for what they believe and how they feel, as opposed to how their patients feel. Those in favor of PAS, while acting in the same way, have also taken into consideration that there are many patients out there who no longer want to live with their illness.

            The many court cases that were presented in this article only goes to show how strong both sides of the argument are, and how much they are willing to fight. The outcome of each case, though, tends to put a huge burden on those in the nursing field, as it means they will have one more thing to be concerned with if a patient brings up the concept of PAS. For the time being, though, it seems as though the cases will continue to pop up, only to be agreed or disagreed upon.

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