Physician-Assisted Suicide is defined as suicide in which a physician supplies information and/or the means of committing suicide (e.g. a lethal dose of sleeping pills, or carbon monoxide gas) to a person, so that individual can easily terminate their own life (“Passive Euthanasia”). Some terminally ill patients are in unbearable pain and/or experiencing an unbearably poor quality of life (“Passive Euthanasia”). They would rather end their lives than continue until their body finally gives up. Does the state have the right to deny them their wish (“Passive Euthanasia”)? During the first year of legalized physician-assisted suicide in Oregon, the decision to request and use a prescription for lethal medication was associated with concern about loss of autonomy or control over the bodily functions, not with fear of intractable pain or concern about financial loss (“New England Journal of Medicine”).
Suicide is a legal act that is theoretically available to all. But, a person who is terminally ill or who is in a hospital setting or disabled may not be able to exercise this option, either because of mental or physical limitations. In reality, they are being discriminated against because of their disability (“Passive Euthanasia”). Euthanasia, or physician-assisted suicide, should be legalized, and an open option to patients who are mentally or terminally ill. It should be the patients right and choice. Religious opposition to medical relief of suffering is not a new topic.
In 1591, Eufame Macalyane, a lady of rank, was charged with seeking aid for the relief of pain at the time of birth of her two sons and was burned alive on the Castle Hill of Edinburgh (Brazil). Using pain killers such as chloroform was considered contrary to the will of God as it avoided one part of the “primeval curse of woman” (Brazil). The same thinking is shown in the modern-day opposition to physician-assisted suicide; with Catholics believing that end of life suffering purifies the soul and must therefore be ended (Brazil). In a personal interview with Father Edward Domin of St. Jane Frances de Chantal Church, Father Ed stated that the Church was against any type of suicide regardless of the knowledge of the action (Personal interview). “Some opponents believe that physician aid-in-dying would undermine public trust in medicines dedication to preserving the life and health of patients..”(Egendorf 116). Physician-assisted suicide is active voluntary euthanasia.
It is active euthanasia because it concerns methods that intentionally cause the death of the patient. It is voluntary because the patients make the decision to have their lives ended (“Physician-Assisted Suicide”). When one looks at the issue in terms of these distinctions, two separate moral questions arise: Is it morally acceptable for a Christian to request assistance in indirectly causing his or her own death? Is it morally acceptable for a Christian physician to adhere to the wishes of a patient who makes such a request (“Physician-Assisted Suicide”)? What Christians say about issues of morality should be and is usually reflective of their fundamental faith convictions (“Physician-Assisted Suicide”). “It is a pledge by medicine to find more effective ways of eliminating pain, or providing emotional support, and of assisting the sufferer to experience a “good death” (Physician-Assisted Suicide)”. The refusal by medical caregivers to assist in a patients suicide is a pledge that the caregiver will never give up on a patient and never cease active forms of care (“Physician-Assisted Suicide”). The argument here is that it is neither a part of the cure nor is it a form of care (“Physician-Assisted Suicide”).
Why isnt eliminating the suffering person an acceptable part of the cure (“Physician-Assisted Suicide”)? Proponents of physician- assisted suicide argue that people care for pets and animals who are in pain by “putting them to sleep” therefore, shouldnt everyone do the same for their loved ones (Physician-Assisted Suicide)? (Beliefs about suicide varied considerably in ancient Greece. The Stoics and Epicureans believed strongly in the individuals right to choose the means and time of his death (Jamison 13). This is also supported by todays Right to Die society of Canada: “..the right of any..individual..to choose the time, place, and means of his or her death” (“Right to Die Society”)). Aside from the fact that people and animals are treated differently in many ways, there are moral constraints and obligations arising from fundamental beliefs about responsibilities to God and each other that define acceptable care (“Physician-Assisted Suicide”). One obligation is to eliminate the suffering of others with the constraint that people cannot eliminate the suffering by eliminating the sufferer (“Physician-Assisted Suicide”).
“Too many people suffer unnecessary pain, and the medical treatment of pain is often deplorable. Medical licensing authorities are key to effect the necessary changes” (“Compassion”). An individual has a constitutional right to request the withdrawal or withholding of medical treatment, even if doing so will result in the death of the patient (“Part 2”). “The history of the laws treatment of assisted suicide in this country [is].. rejection of nearly all efforts to permit it.
The asserted right to assistance in committing suicide is not a fundamental liberty interest..” (Van Biema 30). Most Americans treasure their individuality and their freedom to decide what to believe. This after all, is the American way. It started with our founding fathers who saw the trouble European nations experienced from church interference with the state and opted for a strictly secular government in the country (Brazil). By maintaining strict neutrality toward religion, this new type of government could provide an assurance that freedom of religion would be offered to all. Americans were to be free to believe or to not believe as they saw fit (Brazil). Unfortunately, some of the current legislatures violate this principle and use their governmental powers to impose personal beliefs on others.
The “Pain Relief Promotion Act of 1999” (PRPA) is a case in point. This bill, sponsored by Senator Don Nickles and Representative Henry Hyde, both Catholics who would amend the Controlled Substances Act to make it illegal to use prescribed drugs to assist in the planned suicide of a patient (Brazil). Anyone Intentionally dispersing, distributing, or administering a controlled substance for the purpose of causing death or assisting another person in causing death would be subject to federal persecution and a prison sentence term from 20 years to life in prison (Brazil). The bill is a direct response to the Death with Dignity Act first passed in Oregon in 1994, that allowed doctors and physicians, after suitable safeguards, to aid a patient in achieving a painless death (Brazil). When that failed, they succeeded in bringing it up for a second vote (Brazil).
“The doctor referred to in the article refuted the statistics printed, but the issue was still presented to the people for another vote” (Brazil). This occurred on November 4, 1997, when the people of Oregon overwhelmingly expressed their support for physician-assisted suicide in a resounding 60-40 victory (Brazil). Pass of this legislation would affect even those who do not wish for the option of physician-assisted suicide, or even those in states with no such law, as it would have a chilling effect on physicians willingness to prescribe adequate medication for end of life care, meaning intensified agony for thousands of dying patients (Brazil). What doctor wouldnt hesitate before prescribing full pain relief, knowing that under this bill, any police officer at the local or federal level could question his intentions and define his actions as a crime (Brazil)? The fear of investigation, even under the current regulations has led to the well documented “under treatment” of pain, according to the CEO of the Oregon Hospice Association (Brazil). Furthermore, experience in Oregon shows that the very knowledge that relief is available is needed to provide comfort and makes pain more bearable (Brazil).
Under the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, Section 2.01 Who may Initiate a Written Request for Medication, a patient may request assistance if that individual is: An adult who is capable, is a resident of Oregon, and has been determined by the attending physician and consulting physician to be suffering from a terminal disease, and who has voluntarily expressed his or her wish to die, may make a written request for medication for the purpose of ending his or her life in a humane and dignified manner in accordance with this Act (“Section 2”). The patient gets the physician to confirm the disease by following The Death with Dignity Act Section 3.02 Consulting a Physician, “Before a patient is qualified under this Act, a consulting physician shall examine the patient and his or …