On April 13, 1999, the most recognized physician performing assisted suicide, Dr, Jack Kevorkian, was sentenced to ten to twenty-five years in prison for second degree murder and three to seven years for delivery of a controlled substance. Assisted suicide happens when a person commits suicide with the help of someone else. Physician assisted suicide is generally pain free and, as some would say, the most peaceful way to die. Should it be the right of terminally ill patients to decide if they want to seek out physician assisted suicide to end their intolerable pain, or should it be up to the courts?
Physician-assisted suicide occurs when a physician facilitates a patient’s death by providing the necessary means and/or information to enable the patient to perform the life-ending act (AMA). Each and every human being knows that there will come a time when his or her life will come to an end. When, where, and how are some of the scariest things any of us have to think about. Everyday, people commit suicide because they are too scared to face the life they have ahead of them.
Those who fail to actually end their lives are not punished, but are actually pitied and given a tremendous amount of help. What about those people who are too sick, or are in too much pain to actually carry out the act of suicide there selves? Should they be made to suffer for the rest of their lives, even though they might only have a couple of months, even weeks? Dr. Kevorkian, as well as other physicians, offer these kinds of people another option, a painless injection or a few short breaths of carbon monoxide to end all of their suffering.
It isn’t fair for those of us who aren’t suffering, or those of us who have strong religious beliefs, to impose our feelings of what is morally or ethically wrong on the rest of society. Suicide is not an illegal act in this country, no one gets punished for attempting suicide, it’s only assisted suicide that is illegal. Ultimately, assisted suicide is a question of choice and empowering people to have control over their own bodies. The earliest American statute to outlaw assisted suicide was enacted in New York, Act of Dec. 10, 1828.
Many of the new states and territories followed New York’s example. Between 1857 and 1865, a New York commission led by Dudley Field drafted a criminal code that prohibited “aiding” a suicide and, specifically, “furnishing another person with any deadly weapon or poisonous drug, knowing that such person intends to use such weapon or drug in taking his own life. ” By the time the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits states from denying any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, was ratified, it was a crime in most states to assist a suicide. These laws are deeply rooted.
In recent years, however, these assisted suicide bans have been reexamined and, reacknowledged. Because of advances in medicine and technology, people today are more likely to die in hospitals from chronic illnesses. Public concern and democratic action are focused on how best to protect dignity and honor at the end of life, there have been many significant changes in state laws and in the attitudes these laws reflect. Many states, for example, now permit “living wills, surrogate health care decision making, and the withdrawal or refusal of life sustaining medical treatment. oters and legislators continue for the most part to backup their states’ prohibitions on assisting suicide.
According to a recent survey taken by a Baylor College of Medicine professor in early 1997, some 44. 5 percent of ordinary doctors said they favor legalization of Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS), 33. 9 percent were opposed and the other 21. 6 percent were unsure. The survey is the first nationwide examination of all doctors’ views on physician-assisted suicide. Those who identified themselves as conservatives and who considered religion very important opposed physician-assisted suicide in large numbers.
Jewish doctors were more inclined to favor legalization, while catholic doctors generally oppose it (The Houston Chronicle). Other surveys of physicians in practice show that about one in five will receive a request for physician assisted suicide sometime in their career. The American Medical Association (AMA) is the self- regulating group of the American medical profession, made up of doctors and administrative staff. The AMA has long been known for its consistent pro-abortion stand. As a result, the pro-life movement has often been directly at odds with this powerful and influential organization of America’s doctors.
As the issue of euthanasia, particularly doctor-assisted suicide, has come to the forefront, the AMA has taken a strong position on this controversial subject. With respect to this issue the AMA has taken a firm stand for life. A survey found that at least 61. 6 percent of AMA delegates said they are opposed to physician-assisted suicide. “It’s a question of whether the ends justify the means,” said Dr. Donald Schroeder, an AMA delegate from Eugene, Ore. , “I strongly oppose federal intervention, but I’m so opposed to physician-assisted suicide that I support this action”(www. euthansia. com).
The House passed the Pain Relief Promotion Act in October of 1999 in part because it was backed by the AMA and its 300,000 doctors. Among other things, the bill requires the Drug Enforcement Administration to revoke the license to prescribe controlled substances, such as barbiturates or morphine, and to pursue criminal charges against doctors who assist the suicide of a terminally ill patient, regardless of state law California along with Washington State are both known for their many aid-in-dying initiative attempts. Washington State was supported by 47 percent of its voting population to legalize physician assisted suicide in 1991.
After California and Washington State both failed to legalize physician assisted suicide, Oregon adjusted their strategies, and their efforts paid off when they became the first jurisdiction anywhere in the world ever to legalize assisted suicide (Assisted Suicide 49). In 1994, voters in the state of Oregon passed what is called the Death with Dignity Act, which went into effect in 1997 (Assisted Suicide 82). The Death with Dignity Act says that a doctor may prescribe, not administer, a lethal dose of medication to a patient who has less than six months to live.
Two doctors must agree that the patient is mentally competent and the decision is voluntary. A report released by the Oregon State Health Division reviewing the first year of the law’s implementation found that the law was working well and had not been subject to abuse. 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 of bodily functions, not with fear of intractable pain or concern about financial loss.
As of March 10, 2003, 42 physicians wrote a total of 67 prescriptions for lethal doses of medication. Thirty-nine of the prescription recipients died after ingesting the medication, others changed their minds. The number of prescriptions written increased from each of the previous years: 58 prescriptions were written in 2002, 44 in 2001, 39 in 2000, 33 in 1999, and 24 in 1998. During the past six years, the 171 patients who took lethal medications differed in several ways from the 53,544 Oregonians dying from the same underlying diseases.
Rates of participation in PAS decreased with age, but were higher among those who were divorced or never married, those with more years of education, and those with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and HIV/Aids. Although the number of Oregonians opting for physician assisted suicide has increased the number of people dying from it is relatively small with about . 07 percent of Oregonians dying by physician-assisted suicide (Sixth Annual Report). Dr. Jack Kevorkian, disbarred from medical practice in 1991, is the most well-known physician to perform assisted suicide.
Kevorkian has admitted to assisting at least 45 terminally ill patients (Assisted Suicide 48). Although Kevorkian was sentenced to 10 to 25 years in prison in 1999, he was acquitted of charges in his three previous trials (Assisted Suicide 80). Kevorkian used two methods to help people commit suicide: injection and carbon monoxide. He has what he calls the “suicide machine”, it has three canisters or bottles mounted on a metal frame, about six inches wide by 18 inches high. Each bottle has a syringe that connects to a single IV line in the patients arm.
The first bottle contains ordinary saline solution, the second holds sleep-inducing barbiturates, and the third a lethal mixture of potassium chloride which immediately stops the heart. The other method used is a cylinder of the deadly gas is connected by a tube to a mask over the patients face. Once the valve is released the gas which starts flowing and may take 10 minutes or longer to take the affect. Both of these methods are performed when the patient initiates the substance.
Even patients who did not receive regular health care by Dr. Kevorkian sought him out to have a painless death. Lois Hawes, 52, a divorced mother of four who looked after a brain damaged son, had terminal cancer and died of carbon monoxide poisoning at the Waterford Township, home of Kevorkian’s assistant Neal Nicol. She said she had watched her father and brother die of cancer, and did not want to undergo extraordinary treatment. Hawes was the first patient whose doctors cooperated with Kevorkian.
Jack Miller, 53, was a tree trimmer and the first male to seek Kevorkian’s help. He suffered from cancer and emphysema, and feared going into a coma as his mother had done. He died from inhaling carbon monoxide at a trailer home he shared with his girlfriend. Elaine Goldbaum, 47, was a divorced mother who sold jewelry until her health forced her to quit in 1988. Goldbaum suffered from multiple sclerosis and required round-the-clock nursing care. In a letter to Kevorkian, she said her loss of independence was “atrocious.
She too died of carbon monoxide poisoning in her Southfield apartment (Physician Assisted Suicide). Each of Kevorkian’s patients came to him for help; he didn’t look for weak and unstable people to make his victims. He did what he did to help people end their suffering in a way that wasn’t painful, and the patients had their families or whoever they wanted by their side when they passed away. These people didn’t have much of a life left when they came to Kevorkian; all they had ahead of them was a dreadful, most likely very painful, death.
CNN and USA Today took a poll in June of 1997 that showed 57 percent of Americans were in favor of physician assisted suicide, 76 percent in Canada, 80 percent in Britain, 81 percent in Australia, and 92 percent in the Netherlands (Oregon Tackles Mercy Killing). People all over the world are starting to grasp the concept of assisted suicide in a whole new way. We are starting to realize that death is much different for us than it was for our ancestors. We have many more diseases than there used to be, which means death for many of us will involve suffering.
People are starting to realize that maybe they don’t want to have to go through that, and they don’t want to make others go through it either. Surveys of patients and members of the general public find that the vast majority think that physician assisted suicide is ethically justifiable in certain cases, most often those cases involving unrelenting suffering (University of Washington). Not only is it in some patient’s best interest to pursue assisted suicide but also in the country’s best interest as well.
We don’t realize how much money the government puts into medical equipment every year. Hospitals could have much better prenatal care, infant care etc. that would initially save or improve lives, where as life support machines only leave the suffering to suffer longer. Life support is not an improvement to ones body but a machine that more or less lives for you. Once a person is diagnosed with a terminal illness, no medicines or machines can cure them or stop their suffering, they can only further their life by a few weeks or months.
If a person wants to refuse the use of these expensive treatments and seek a painless way to end their suffering the government should not oppose. There are so many other ways for the government to spend its money than forcing people to seek treatment for something that is untreatable. Currently, terminally ill patients who wish to end their suffering are at the mercy of doctors who may refuse to help them die. Legalizing physician-assisted suicide would respect the patient’s freedom or choice while providing safeguards to protect their rights.
Opponents of physician-assisted suicide often argue that certain types of patients- such as women, the disabled, or the uninsured- may be coerced into an assisted death if the practice is legalized. These critics do not understand that abuse of the practice is less likely to occur if it is legalized. Coercion might not be completely eliminated, but legalized physician-assisted suicide would protect patients. Physician-assisted suicide should be legalized, but strict guidelines should be established to ensure that the practice is not abused.
These safe guards should include counseling, consultation with doctors, and a convening of respected community leaders (Assisted Suicide 115). The U. S. medical system does not honor the right of the elderly to end their suffering. Aged and ailing patients are often kept alive against their wishes through the use of antibiotics and costly treatments. Legalizing assisted suicide would respect competent adults’ right to choose death instead of prolonged misery. Every situation is unique, and hastening death may be a valid decision is some cases. Assisted suicide is an important decision in cases where the pain can not be managed.
If physician-assisted suicide is legalized it is unlikely to have a dangerous effect on American Society. Over the years many new diseases, incurable diseases, have developed and death doesn’t necessarily mean what it used to. Most people aren’t going to die a peaceful death in their sleep; it’s more likely to die of cancer in a hospital hooked up to a number of machines. People don’t grow up imagining to suffer at the end of their lives, and some people would rather seek assistance from a trained professional to give them that peaceful, painless death.
Legalizing physician-assisted suicide would give people the assurance of knowing that if it comes to a point where they are most likely going to have a painful death they can will have options. Separation of church and state is a very important part of our government and has a lot to do with the way that our country operates. As Americans we have the right to choose our own religion or choose no religion at all, the government can not force us to believe anything we don’t want to. Most religious people have a hard time with suicide of any form because they view it as a sin.
Those who oppose suicide for any reason, have no right imposing their beliefs or morals onto those who may have no religion or believe in any higher power. Legalizing physician-assisted suicide wouldn’t force those who oppose suicide to accept or acknowledge it; it would simply put the option on the table for all of those who are suffering. It should be the right of terminally ill patients to decide if they want to seek out physician-assisted suicide to end their intolerable pain, not the right of the courts.