Reasons To Oppose Physician Assisted Suicide Case Study

Death. A permanent cessation of all vital functions: the end of life (Dorland). What does death feel like? Nobody knows. At least, nobody wants to know. And of course, nobody wants to think about it. It must be painful, right? Well, maybe thinking about it is a good idea. Why should anyone have to go through a long and agonizing death? Imagine sitting in the hospital, in a chair next to a grandmother who has terminal cancer. She has been in and out of the hospital many times and her declining health has been a sign of her impending death.

A few months pass by until she’s back, but this time her health has deteriorated even further. She breathes slowly, and when someone tries to talk to her, there is no response, no sign of life besides the shallow rise and fall of her chest with every labored breath. It is unbearable to watch. Now, there is a choice to be made. Should she continue living this way, suffering through every moment? Or should she finally be able to escape her pain and relieve her misery once and for all? Nobody ever wants to be put in this position, but it happens more often than not.

The decision to terminate someone’s life is made every day. But how is that possible; who brings it up? And who is responsible for the death? In the end, many people are scared away from physician assisted suicide (PAS) due to their unfamiliarity with the legal complications. Legalizing physician assisted suicide would benefit the patients who meet the requirements of PAS. These people would end their suffering through their own discretion, which is what their family and friends would want for them in the long run.

Patients who have this option would not have to take more physically and emotionally draining routes, such as self harm like overdosing, in order to end their lives. In the US, physician assisted suicide is legal in four states: Oregon, California, Vermont and Washington. In New Hampshire, PAS is not legal. In 2016, New Hampshire legislation was pending Death with Dignity, a bill that legalized PAS; however, it did not pass, starving 82 year old Jim Kinhan to death.

Jim had suffered from the prognosis of colon cancer for three years before deciding that his life had to end. Unfortunately, starvation was the only legal way. Jim Kinhan suffered for three days before passing with his family by his side. Although they were relieved Jim was now in a painless place, they were disappointed with New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan for vetoing Jim’s proposition of the Death with Dignity law (Morris). If New Hampshire passed Death with Dignity, families like Jim’s would not have to suffer every passing day while their loved one is in pain.

The voluntary decision of the patient to end his or her own life through a lethal injection would be more humane than starving oneself to death – while their family has to sit beside and merely watch. The Death with Dignity Act in Oregon allows terminally-ill patients to have a physician prescribe a lethal medication that the patient voluntarily administers to himself. It is not called ‘suicide’, but rather ‘physician-assisted suicide’. PAS should not be mistaken for euthanasia, which is when the physician directly administers the lethal drug to the patient.

Today, euthanasia is illegal in the United States (Oregon Death with Dignity Act). In order to qualify for PAS in Oregon, the patient must be 18 years or older, a resident of Oregon, have the capability to make and communicate their health care decisions, and be diagnosed with a terminal illness that will result in death within the next six months. To plea for PAS, the patient must verbally request twice with fifteen days in between each request and write a request in the presence of two witnesses. Next, the physician and a consulting physician must confirm the diagnosis and prognosis.

If either physician believes the patient’s judgment is impaired by a psychological disorder, the patient must be referred for a psychological examination. Additionally, the physician must tell the patient about other alternatives besides physician-assisted suicide, such as hospice and pain control medications. The patient is also advised – but not required – to notify his or her direct relatives of the prescription request (Oregon Death with Dignity Act). The guidelines for approval of PAS are extremely undeviating to ensure accuracy and clarification between the patient and physician.

Often, opposers of PAS do not want to deal with the morality divisions that PAS poses. They fear that supporting PAS complicates legal issues as well as which personal morals should be pursued versus which religious beliefs should be followed. Some believe PAS is the easy-access gateway to remove a burden. The opposition believes that patients could be pressured into ending their life in order to relieve their family of his or her degrading presence, or how it would be more cost efficient to end life compared to continuing to receive healthcare treatments (Reasons to Oppose Physician-Assisted Suicide).

In the court of law, prosecution for these comments to patients is difficult to prove, so it is assumed that PAS has more complications than survival. However, reasonable people who are mentally capable of making their own decisions about terminating their lives, will not let someone sway their decision making so easily. These patients can feel the pain and misery they are suffering, allowing them to make rational decisions about if death will put them at rest.

If the patient thinks that living with their illness can be achieved to their level of tolerance, he or she will decide so. Yes, there is no doubt that making the final decision is heartbreaking, but the patient realizes that living with their illness is worse than death. There are also multiple steps taken to ensure the patient is one-hundred percent confident in his or her decision, through the two verbal requests and written request for PAS, as well as an approved psychiatric state of health (Oregon Death with Dignity Act).

The opposition to PAS also stems from the worry that physicians will use the law to misguide patients into believing death is the best option and that their influence will result in the death of more patients, rather than trying to alleviate their pain. According to Focus on the Family, a Christian ministry dedicated to helping families thrive, “Doctors who list death by assisted suicide among the medical options for a terminally or chronically ill patient communicate hopelessness, not compassion,” (Reasons to Oppose Physician-Assisted Suicide).

The implication of PAS also frightens people who think physicians will disband and corrupt their role in society, which is to “apply medical knowledge and skills to the diagnosis, prevention and management of disease” (Rijal). According to the American Medical Association, “Allowing physicians to participate in assisted suicide would cause more harm than good. Physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as a healer, would be difficult or impossible to control and would pose serious societal risks,” (AMA Biography).

Yes, a physician is supposed to provide health care for the patient in hopes to relieve their symptoms. This is why the physician requests hospice or medication for a patient when other alternatives, such as surgery, are not possible. But, when the patient denies these options, the physician has no other alternative than to do what the patient wishes. The patient could walk out of the hospital, never set foot in the building again, and suffer until death; or, the patient could request PAS, get approved through the acceptance guidelines, and die peacefully to their own discretion.

Offering PAS is the last step in attempting to give the patient a chance at relieving their ailments. It would be worse to let the patient back into their life without any help or guidance towards relief. Ultimately, the physician wants what is best for the patient while respecting their moralities and personal opinions. Alzheimer’s is a disease that impairs a person from making rational decisions after a certain point of severity. As a result, an individual can lose the decision to end their life through PAS because their mental state would no longer be qualified.

Patients suffering with Lou Gehrig’s disease are also targeted if PAS is continued to be illegal in New Hampshire. These patients suffer a slow inhabitant of the restriction of all motor skills until breathing and swallowing are impossible (Jaret). At some point in time, these people would not be able to self-administer the drug because they would lose the use of their arms. How is this fair to the patients? Their illness robs them of making the decision to implement PAS. Think about a mother or father.

If either were about to pass away, it would be best if their loved ones and friends were by their side, comforted knowing that the passing of their loved one would be peaceful and painless. PAS is the most painless way possible for the patient to escape their constant torment. Those who oppose PAS need to step back and look at the entire situation. What is the patient’s illness, what ailments are they suffering, and has the doctor made every effort to assist the patient in finding alternative ways other than PAS to ease their pain and psychological distress?

If all those steps are taken, it is truly up to the patient to decide whether or not PAS is the only way out. There is no ambiguity wondering if the patient wants to proceed to the lethal injection because of the many checkpoints along the way. Without the legalization of PAS in New Hampshire, mothers, sons, sisters, and grandfathers like Jim will have to end their lives in ways that cannot be imagined. What does starvation feel like? Nobody wants to know. So why leave that as someone’s one and only alternative?