Physician assisted suicide has long been a topic of debate. Those who are in favor and those who are very much against it, make very convincing arguments on both sides of this controversial topic. In November 2012, people of the state of Massachusetts voted on a very controversial petition called the Massachusetts “Death with Dignity” Initiative. This initiative that was defeated, allowed the people of Massachusetts with terminal illness (a terminally ill patient is defined as one who has been given six months or fewer to live) the right to request and obtain lethal drugs by their physician in order to end their life.
The “Death with Dignity” initiative stated that before the lethal drugs were allowed to be given, the patient requesting the medication had to be mentally capable of making medical decisions, required to verbally request them two times as well as submit the request in writing, and have both verbal and written requests witnessed. The initial verbal request must be fifteen days prior to the written request and second oral request. The patient’s terminal diagnosis and capability to make health care decisions must also be confirmed by a second doctor (Galvin. )
Before the people of the State of Massachusetts voted on the “Death with Dignity” Initiative. Three states had passed the “Death with Dignity” act: Oregon, Washington, and Vermont. Oregon was the first to pass the “Death with Dignity act (DWDA) on October 27, 1997. Since the law was passed in 1997, a total of 1,050 people have had DWDA prescriptions written and 673 patients have died from ingesting medications prescribed under the DWDA (Oregon Health Authority. ) For those who are not opposed to the “Death with Dignity” Initiative, believe that what is currently taking place in states of Oregon, Washington, and Vermont is historic and one day will be adopted by the remaining forty-seven states.
For those who are opposed, hope one day that the “Death with Dignity” Initiative will be overturned and physician assisted suicide will once more become illegal. There have been many heated debates on both sides of this of this very controversial issue. People have very strong opinions on what they think is right and wrong. Those who are very much against “Death with Dignity” often recite the Hippocratic Oath which states: “I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone.
I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel (Ludwig 56)” This is the oath each physician takes upon graduation from medical school and before being allowed to practice medicine on the public. They believe that any physician that takes part in prescribing life ending drugs to their terminal patients would be violating the Hippocratic Oath, and therefore should not be allowed to practice medicine.
Many people also believe that physician assisted suicide could eventually lead to the legalization of physician assisted suicide for those who suffer from chronic illness, the disabled, psychologically distressed, and those who are unable to capably choose for themselves (Brogden 2001. ) They also argue that physicians are not able to accurately predict just how long a terminally ill person could live for. Thus killing people who could have lived with a terminal illness for a lot longer than the physician thought possible.
Religion is another argument for those who oppose “Death with Dignity” In many religions physician assisted suicide is considered a sin against God. In Catholicism: The official position of the Catholic Church in Rome remains that killing of a human being, even by an act of omission to eliminate suffering, violates divine law and offends the dignity of the human person (Death with Dignity National Center. ) And in Mormon: Euthanasia is condemned. Anyone who takes part in euthanasia, including ‘assisted suicide’, is regarded as having violated the commandments of God (Death with Dignity National Center.)
Religion has swayed many persons to oppose “Death with Dignity” for fear they would be religiously persecuted by their church. Those who oppose also believe that the insurance companies will put pressure on physicians to avoid using heroic measures that may save the lives of terminally ill patients in order to cut health care costs. In a medical climate that is characterized by skyrocketing costs for advanced technological treatment and an aging population with prolonged years of disability and illnesses. Strong incentives for physician assisted suicide would be the ultimate cost saving tools (Miller & Meier 1998.)
Therefore patients would not be given every life sustaining medical options available to them. Those who are in favor of the “Death with Dignity” initiative. Strongly believe that physicians have enough knowledge and experience to know when a patients days are numbered. They believe that allowing a person with a terminal illness to suffer endlessly until the body finally gives out is both inhumane and cruel. They also believe that people should have the right to choose death on their own terms. The right to die should be a fundamental freedom of each person (Messerli. )
Many people are afraid of having to suffer excruciating pain and prolonged agony at the end of life and of being forced to continue an existence that has lost all meaning. If death is inevitable, physician assisted suicide might provide the “good death” that otherwise appears to be impossible (Girsh 2000. ) They also argue that the Hippocratic Oath is outdated and does not meet the demands of some modern medical practices. Many medical schools have all but stopped using the full Hippocratic Oath and are instead allowing students to choose alternatives.
And a growing number of physicians have come to feel that the Hippocratic Oath is inadequate to address the realities of a medical world that has witnessed huge scientific, economic, political, and social changes, a world of legalized abortion, physician-assisted suicide, and pestilences unheard of in Hippocrates’ time (Tyson. ) People who use the Hippocratic Oath as a tool for their opposition argument are slowly starting to lose one of their biggest oppositional tools in the fight against the “Death with Dignity” initiative.
As for religion, a few that once opposed physician assisted suicide are now actively supporting it. The Lutheran Church: “Advocates of euthanasia, as well as of assisted suicide, have sought to justify the taking of human life on moral grounds by describing it as a truly compassionate act aimed at the relief of human suffering. And the Unitarian Universalist state: The right to self-determination includes the choice of hastened dying. Unitarians support immunity from prosecution for those who, with proper safeguards, honor the requests of terminally ill patients (Death with Dignity National Center.)
People who support physician assisted suicide hope that more religious groups will begin to accept and adopt these same views, and allow a persons right to choose death over suffering. With the allowance of physican assisted suicide, healthcare costs and insurance premiums would be reduced. Consider the huge cost of keeping a dying patient alive for several more pain suffering months. With the cost of labs, x-rays, medications, hospital overhead, etc. The cost to keep a patient alive who wants to die is skyrocketing.
Most people want to be able to leave their children and grandchildren with something when they die. Medical costs eat into that estate and often leave people with little or no money or even lead to bankruptcy (Messerli. ) Physician assisted suicide or “Death with Dignity” will always be a controversial debate. Whether people are for or against physician assisted suicide, every person should be given the right to choose. No one should ever have to fear persecution or be pressured into something that they do not believe in, whether it be the physicians who practice it or the terminally ill patients who are considering it.