Brittany Maynard was 29 years old when her doctor diagnosed her with terminal brain cancer. After receiving a grim prognosis of six months to live, Maynard moved to Oregon to take advantage of the state’s death with dignity laws (cnn.). She died there a few months later on her own terms. Oregon is one of six states that has legalized physician assisted suicide. Over 750 people have died in Oregon as part of the Right to Die Act implemented in 1994. California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont have all legalized physician assisted suicide within the last decade (procon). In these states, physician assisted suicide is an option for terminally ill patients, like Brittany Maynard. Assisted suicide is described as when, “…The person voluntarily expresses his or her wish to die and also makes the request for medication for the purpose of ending his or her life” (Wikipedia). Supporters of assisted suicide claim that assisted suicide enables patients to a “death with dignity”. As Ryan Anderson, bioethics writer argues, doctors should aid their patients in dying with dignity through natural causes, not providing a means for patients to kill themselves. There are several moral implications involved with assisted suicide that call into question topics like the value of human life and the role of physicians. Assisted suicide should be illegal because it does more harm than good by undervaluing human life, violating the role of doctors, and depriving ill people of time to live.
One major issue with assisted suicide is that it abuses the role of doctors. Physicians take the Hippocratic Oath, which states, “I will keep [the sick] from harm and injustice. I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect” (heritage). Assisted suicide involves the administration of harmful drugs by a physician, which is a blatant violation of the oath doctors take. Doctors’ role is to heal patients and increase their length and quality of life. It is counterproductive for doctors to be involved in the death of their patients, especially when they have the training to offer treatment and provide the means to improve a person’s health. Assisted suicide also devalues human life. When doctors administer deadly drugs to people, it gives the impression that lives are disposable and insignificant, if people are willing to throw them away. Life is a precious thing, regardless of how weak or sick a person has become. The International Code of Medical Ethics and the Declaration of Geneva discuss the significance of respecting human life. Many religions, including Judaism, certain Christian denominations, and Buddhism, oppose assisted suicide, reasoning that it violates the belief that killing is wrong. Some faiths also say that God should choose when a person dies (Wikipedia). Human life is deeply important and irreplaceable and people should treat it as such.
It is commonly argued that assisted suicide is appropriate for terminally ill people because it offers relief from suffering caused by their illness. There are, however, alternative methods for relieving pain without causing death sooner. In the United States, people can make the decision to stop treatment, yet still receive pain medication. Sick people are legally allowed as many painkillers as necessary to keep them comfortable before they die (dredf). Many people who have an illness do not want to die. They usually just want their suffering to end (cnn). The administration of pain medication makes it so that people can continue living without having to suffer.
Assisted suicide should be opposed because it further limits the precious time that an ill person is able to spend setting their affairs in order or spending time with loved ones. No one knows for sure how long a terminally ill person may last. In one Oregon case, a person lived for over 2.5 years after requesting the deadly prescription, but not ingesting it (time). If the person chooses to kill themselves, they run the risk of depriving themselves of more life and more time with their family. Brittany Maynard said, “…I'm able to move forward in my remaining days or weeks I have on this beautiful Earth, to seek joy and love and to spend time traveling to outdoor wonders of nature with those I love” (cnn). This illustrates the desire terminally ill people possess to make the most of the time that they have. Assisted suicide hinders the ability of a sick person to enjoy their lives while they can.
Physician assisted suicide is legal in six states and Washington DC. It is even viewed as acceptable for people who have a terminal illness. Suicide, on the other hand, was considered a felony in 30 of the 50 U.S. states (nobullying) and it is an action that is still highly discouraged and even considered shameful. Many people commit suicide or feel inclined to commit suicide due to mental illness to relieve suffering. Assisted suicide patients also choose to die to end suffering, but due to a physical illness. There is a societal stigma towards suicide because of mental illness, so why is there not a similar stigma towards physician assisted suicide? One source makes the claim that “the only difference between suicide and assisted suicide is the number of people involved” (suicideinquiry.nz). This notion assumes that suicide involves only one person planning to kill themselves, whereas with physician assisted suicide they seek the help of a doctor. One similarity between suicide and assisted suicide is that the desire to die often stems from an underlying mental or emotional illness even for people with a physical terminal illness. Through treatment for mental illness, many people no longer feel like committing suicide or attempting assisted suicide (suicideinquiry.nz). Physician assisted suicide may seem more socially appropriate or justified since it enlists a doctor’s help, but it is still morally wrong. The suffering is real for both people with physical and mental illness and there are better options for treatment or pain relief than death.
The topic of physician assisted suicide is complex and it involves many moral and ethical dilemmas. Assisted suicide should not be legal because it undervalues human life, undermines the role of doctors in our society, deprives terminally ill from more time to spend with loved ones, and it is not a productive way to relieve a person’s suffering, as some believe. The medical community should be focusing its time and effort on curing people with terminal illnesses or developing ways to make them more comfortable, instead of offering a means for a sick person to end their life sooner. Terminally ill people should be able to focus on making the most of their life before it ends, instead of shortening the limited time they already have.