The issue of medical assistance in dying has been a topic of contention in the healthcare profession. The topic is significant as it concerns people in all corners of the world and as such the debate often goes back and forth on whether a dying patient has the right to die with the aid of a doctor and whether the act of medical assistance in dying is beneficial to the patients. Opponents of medical assistance in dying argue that it should not be permitted on the grounds of moral and religious reasons while proponents argue that medical assistance in dying is beneficial to dying patients as it is a form of compassion, and respect for the patients. Such convictions on either side of the debate are valid as the act of medically assisted dying has various meanings to various people.
For instance, for people against the act, they see the legalization of medical assistance in dying leading to people requesting for medical assistance to die despite the fact that they are not terminally ill, while on the other hand, proponents view the act as a final act of terminal patients practicing their freedom of choice in choosing to end their lives in a dignified manner. However, on examining both sides of this debate, a compassionate person must conclude that medical assistance in dying is beneficial and competent terminal patients should be afforded the right to assisted suicide as it ends their suffering, decreases the financial burden and affords an individual the right to determine their own fate.
One of the primary benefits of medical assistance in dying is that it assists in ending the suffering of a terminal patient in a dignified manner. Over the years, medical advancements have resulted in various means of prolonging the lives of human beings. For patients that have a realistic chance of survival, such advancements are beneficial. However, for terminally ill patients, they are only a means of prolonging their suffering. The major aim of medicine is alleviating pain. In this regard, medical assistance in dying is beneficial to competent terminal patients as it is the best means to alleviate and ultimately end their pain. Furthermore, it provides a form of autonomy as the best person to make an informed decision on how to end a life is the individual suffering from intolerable pain and not the state or a religious body (Milne, Konkin, & Sullivan, 2014). As such medical assistance in dying is a beneficial option and should be available for terminally ill patients as there are forms of suffering that cannot be treated. And from a dying patients perspective, their quality of life is very low and only death can end their suffering.
Additionally, medical assistance in dying is beneficial to the patient as it lessens the financial burden on the patient as well as the patients family. As stated earlier, medical technologies play a significant role in prolonging a patients life. However, in most cases, such technology does not save the lives of a terminal patient. But successful or not, such medical technologies and medicines that are utilized to alleviate the pain and lengthen the life of a terminally ill patient are extremely expensive (Wong, 2013). A terminally ill patient is aware of such costs and knows that the longer he/she stays alive, the more the costs increase. Although most families do not consider such costs when the patient is alive, once the patient dies, these costs are passed on to the family and have to deal with huge hospital bills that often lead to financial ruin. It is in light of this fact that most terminally ill patients prefer medical assistance in dying in order to shelter their loved ones from such burdens. Hence medical assistance in dying is beneficial as it allows the patients to save their families from the expenses of pointlessly keeping them alive. With medically assisted dying, terminal patients can help ease their suffering while easing their families financial burdens.
Medical assistance in dying is also beneficial to patients as it preserves the patients right to determine their own fate. As stated earlier, the majority of terminally ill patients want the right to medical assistance in dying as it means an end to life without unnecessary costs and suffering. Furthermore, terminal patients, as well as other proponents of medical assistance in dying, argue that the right to medically assisted death is an intrinsic right that does not need to be given to any individual. It is a freedom that cannot and should not be denied as terminal patients may wish to exercise this freedom in pursuit of their happiness (Savulescu & Schuklenk, 2016). As a result, laws that criminalize medical assistance in dying are illogical, a point reiterated by the British Colombia Civil Liberties Association that argued that such laws are unconstitutional as they deny terminal patients the right to control choices that are fundamental to their psychological, emotional and physical dignity (Milne, Konkin, & Sullivan, 2014). Furthermore, terminally ill patients should be allowed to end their lives in dignity and by having the right to medical assistance in dying, such patients can be viewed as people making a final active choice in their lives through a final exercise of autonomy and not as people waiting to die.
Conversely, there are various groups that are against medical assistance in dying and hold the belief that terminally ill patients should not be afforded the right to end their suffering through voluntary death. A major point raised by such opponents is that medical assistance in dying goes against the Hippocratic Oath. One of the core tenets of the Hippocratic Oath is to do no harm or to give any advice to causing harm to the human body. The right to medical assistance to dying goes against this Oath as the view of a patients choice for death does not make killing the patient right. According to the Oath, the respectability of the human life is not dependent on the patient consent thus by revoking the right to live, the patient does not deprive the living body of its purity and holiness which doctors have sworn to protect (Wong, 2013). However, it should be noted that the Hippocratic oath is not set in stone and has been modified on various occasions when some of its principles became less acceptable. Furthermore, it is also inconsistent in its premise as it requires doctors to promise to not to do harm and alleviate pain, a situation that is not true with cancer patients that are given chemotherapy, a radioactive chemical that is poisonous to the body and results in unpleasant side effects and incredible pain thus it cannot be used as a valid ground to deny medical assistance in dying (Young, 2014).
Subsequently, opponents of medical assistance in dying argue the legalization of assisted dying will compromise the security of vulnerable persons in the society. A major concern is that legislation supporting medical assistance in dying will reinforce an attitude in the society that suffering and pain should not be a part of ones life and that dependency is a burden thus the lives of the poor, the mentally incompetent, the disabled and the elderly are not worth living. As such, there is a great potential for abuse, as the elderly, the mentally incompetent and the disabled may feel pressured to give up as they feel they are a burden. Thus, if a doctor advocates for medical assisted in dying to such individuals, they may be easily swayed to end their lives (Young, 2014). These concerns also add to the slippery slope argument that if physician-assisted dying is socially accepted, it may lead to increased voluntary requests for assisted dying from individuals that are not terminally ill.
However, various laws in relation to medical assistance in dying only relate to competent persons that are capable of consenting to the termination of their lives. For instance, in the case of Carter vs Canada, the court limited medical assistance in dying to competent adults and excluded minors and individuals with psychiatric disorders (Murphy, 2016). Furthermore, evidence from regions that have decriminalized medical assistance in dying does not support the assertion that the vulnerable individuals in the society may feel pressured to end their lives. For instance, studies have shown that the average person that makes use of medical assistance in dying is male, with a middle to upper-class education and income. Thus, people who are more likely to choose physician-assisted dying are not the vulnerable but rather individuals that are more educated and have a high socioeconomic status (The Economist, 2015).
The majority of arguments against medical assistance in dying are based on morals and religions. For the critics of assisted dying is unethical as ending a life intentionally is unethical and wrong as all life is holy and enduring of pain and suffering are components of its dignity. Although such views are valid, autonomy and liberty are also necessary for human dignity. The right to make decisions that only affect ones life also add to the value of ones life. In todays progressive societies, it is not logical to subject numerous lives to intolerable suffering misery and pain. As a result, it is evident that medical assistance in dying is a vital right that should be afforded to the terminally ill. This right will enable such patients to have a dignified end to their lives, will help lessen the financial burden on the families once they pass on and ultimately affords the patients the right to determine their own fate by choosing how and when to end their lives. Ultimately, whichever side of the debate one leans towards, it is necessary to put in place measures that ensure that medical assistance in dying is not abused and that only patients that are eligible pursue this avenue. Furthermore, it is prudent to develop and implement better palliative care so as to ensure that medical assistance in dying is the very last resort.
Milne, V., Konkin, J., & Sullivan, T. (2014, August 7). Medical assistance in dying: should it be legal or banned in Canada? Retrieved from Healthy Debate: http://healthydebate.ca/2014/08/newsletter/euthanasia-assisted-death
Murphy, S. T. (2016). Supreme Court of Canada Orders Legalization of Physician Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia Carter v. Canada (Attorney General) 2015 SCC 5.
Savulescu, J., & Schuklenk, U. (2016). Doctors Have No Right to Refuse Medical Assistance in Dying, Abortion or Contraception. Bioethics, 162-170.
The Economist. (2015, July 27). Doctors should be allowed to help the suffering and terminally ill to die when they choose. Retrieved from The Economist: https://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21656182-doctors-should-be-allowed-help-suffering-and-terminally-ill-die-when-they-choose
Wong, D. (2013, March 18). The Arguments and Criticisms Surrounding PAS. Retrieved from Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science: http://dujs.dartmouth.edu/2013/03/physician-assisted-suicide-the-arguments-and-criticisms-surrounding-pas/#.WgIwAWiCzIU
Young, R. (2014). Existential suffering and voluntary medically assisted dying. Journal of medical ethics, 40(2), 108-109.
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