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Do We Need To Legalize Physician-Assisted Suicide?

An Oregon woman who was a cancer patient became the very first reported death that embodied the newly enacted physician-assisted suicide law in 1998. In November of 1997, Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act passed. Since then, it has been one of the few laws in the United States that have enabled legalization of physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. The sole purpose of this law is to give rights to those afflicted with terminal diseases, such as cancer, to control decisions that involve the outcome of their bodies. This law allows doctors to use a process known as euthanasia which enables the painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable or painful disease. Of course, this law has brought a series of issues to discussion. Many worry that enabling this process is irrational and violates the culture in which medicine is practiced. However, many feel that it is best to legalize physician-assisted suicide because it offers terminally ill patients the authority to perform a peaceful death and an opportunity to recognize the inadequacy that medical treatment sometimes offers. The constitutional right to free will,  rightful knowledge, and fundamental responsibilities are all factors underneath the patient’s right to enact decisions for voluntary death.

To be told that one is diagnosed with a terminal illness can pave a path to a plethora of emotions. Victims will find themselves in a wave of hopelessness, agony, and frustration. To experience emotional pain should never be on a terminal illness patient’s itinerary. This is why it is argued that most terminally ill patients feel that suicide is necessary is because of the melancholia. For their loved ones is just as bad. Loved ones, of course, want nothing more than a cure for whatever illness their loved one is struck with. For most, treatment is seen as a vital option for the patient to take in order to get better. It is obvious that if the patient is put under a treatment process, it will only reduce the disease’s spread rate. Most patients would rather not be able to experience such thoughts knowing there is an easier, peaceful route. Rather than dwelling on how circumstances may be, they choose to leave the negative dwelling behind.

It is also argued that patients who request doctors to assist them in suicide are likely hopeless due to there being no effective treatment, fear over medical costs, or regret for the family constantly having to take care of them. People with opposing viewpoints believe that the same patients who request suicide assistance are too depressed to make such an important decision. They argue that these patients only need psychotherapy. Having patients’ medical issues resolved is likely to bring them hope to recovering but it is more common that hopelessness will not always be factor that encourages suicide. Again, terminally ill patients could have a montage of reasons as to why they might want to accelerate towards death. It is safe to say that there must be counseling and therapy conducted for the patient to be assisted with understanding the decision they are willing to make.

It is true that there are reports of patients requesting assisted suicide are diagnosed with depression. Also, it is true that there are reports of the same patients who sometimes do change their mind with the help of psychotherapy. However, many patients who want to accelerate the dying process are determined in doing so. Suicide would not always be the first option patients would go to when wanting to hasten their deaths. A patient’s first instinct is to not immediately think of death. Terminally ill patients who consider assisted suicide are aware of their exact medical condition and are always conscious with information from their doctor or physician. These patients understand their medical treatment along with the risks and benefits from it. They must talk with a psychologist to determine if they are psychologically able to make such a decision. This will also be a confirmation stage to signify that this is out of their own doing rather than being forced to do so. Therefore, terminally ill patients who finally choose to ask doctors to help them commit suicide are mentally competent and are very determined about what they want to choose because of the somewhat laborious process they must go through to confirm their decision.

The most imperative thing that Americans, when discussing this issue in favor or against, must keep in mind that every individual in the United States has the right to free-will. The right to free-will falls under the fourteenth amendment embedded in the heavily known American Constitution:

Amendment XIV
“Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the
jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they
reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or
immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of
life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its
jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”.

Being aware of this, every terminally ill patient has the right to make whatever choices they feel is right regarding their own bodies. The author argues that the idea behind rejecting a decision regarding someone’s own body, in this case, requesting assisted suicide, dismantles the fourteenth amendment in the sacred American Constitution: “A state’s categorical ban on physician assistance to suicide — as applied to competent, terminally ill patients who wish to avoid unendurable pain and hasten inevitable death — substantially interferes with this protected liberty interest”. To simply block a federal reservation to act upon one’s own self in which to make the appropriate decision associating to their health because it is “immoral” or “inexcusable” is blatantly rejecting a human right. The author illustrates the general portrayal of the fourteenth amendment in which it corresponds to this issue: “The due process of the fourteenth amendment protects the personal choice of a mentally competent, terminally ill individual to terminate unendurable suffering and hasten inevitable death”. The Constitution allows every being to have free- will. If that is anything to do with medical purposes, that same being is given the authority to make a decision only they feel is suitable.

It is also heavily argued that legalizing physician-assisted suicide goes against the culture of practicing medicine. The role in which a doctor is given is to never recommend suicide but to save patients’ lives. Dr. Faye Girsh, a Harvard Graduate of Psychiatry, argues that “Most doctors feel it’s a slippery slope. Once we start allowing patients to direct the hastening of their death, it gets wrapped up in the doctor’s judgment.” The prime ability that any medical professional should have is to provide and implement the best decisions possible for any patient. These decisions must be routes that are the easiest and most effective. With that being said, these decisions go along a wide spectrum of what the patient feels is right and necessary. The primary objective of the medical community is to always provide treatment and to sustain a patient’s life as long as possible. Palliative care does help reduce the number of patients that want to commit suicide. However, it is the job of palliative services to guide and assist the patient’s most appropriate route. Whether that is suicide or not. It is argued that with modern medicine and treatment, that with simple therapy, counseling, or medicinal regulation, it is capable enough to reduce psychological and physical pain. With this being said, physician-assisted suicide is argued to be illegal because it only interferes with the traditional value and best efforts from medical professionals.

Americans must consider who would actually be protected under the assisted suicide law. The most significant purpose for this law is to only offer a rightful, legal option to terminally ill patients. If a patient reports that they are experiencing unbearable pain, and feel that it is necessary to commit suicide, it is the responsibility of a doctor to assist them. All pain is not bearable and to people who face terminal disease and hopelessness, pain tends to be in great description. The medical community has not been good at dealing with death at the request of a patient. There is argument that breakthroughs in modern medicine and treatment have provided great benefits. However, if the medical community provided better services, not only would this law would be as controversial, but it would also reduce the number of terminally ill people who think about hastening their death. In order to fulfill the purpose that the medical community is supposed to embody, physician-assisted suicide needs to be legalized in order to meet the needs of terminally ill patients to compensate for the inadequacy that medicine and medical community sometimes offers.

It is clear that the best effect of the assisted suicide law is to give the best advantage to all dying patients. Although, it is argued that legalizing such a law is harmful to patients, is counterproductive, and tarnishes the practice and revelations in medicine; legalizing the process of physician-assisted suicide will dramatically improve the current medical environment for patients. Obscuring this right also obscures the federal license to free will, managing responsibilities, disallowing access to rightful knowledge. It is in hopes that the legalization of physician-assisted suicide will provide the informed, moral option of a peaceful death not only directly for patients, but for those they are surrounded with.

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