It is uncommon today to hear people campaign for or against assisted suicide on televisions and in streets. Those supporting this act argue that a person, who is terminally ill and in severe pain, may decide that death is a better option. They also propose that these people have their freedom of choice and should be left to determine their destiny and therefore it is important that the society respects their wish.
Assisted suicide can be defined as the fight for the right to die. Patients are administered drugs by their physicians to end their own lives. Assisted suicide is related to Euthanasia which comes from the Geek language; eu which means ‘good’ and Thanatos which means ‘death’. It is the termination of person’s life with request from the person who wishes to commit suicide.
Euthanasia can be classified as under passive, active, physician assisted suicide and the involuntary euthanasia. Active euthanasia can be described as causing death to a person by use of direct actions as requested by them. Physician assisted suicide on the other hand refers to the practice of supplying information to the patient from the physician. For instance, a physician may offer an overdose prescription to patients. The killing of a person without their consent refers to involuntary euthanasia. This is commonly done to patients in a vegetative state whose recovery is not possible (Robert, 1997).
Assisted Suicide has sparked debates all over the world and no conclusion has been made; especially physicians have been faced with one challenges of whether euthanasia is a virtue or a vice. The practice is often committed though not widely. Euthanasia traces its origin back in the ancient history. Hippocrates mentioned it in their Hippocratic Oath written between 300 and 400 B.C. The oath states that ‘To please no one will I prescribe a deadly drug nor give advice which may cause death (http://www.religioustolerance.org/euth1.htm).
The Greeks and Romans were tolerant of suicide in cases whereby no further assistance could be offered to the patient on the death bed, hence they did not believe in the preservation of life in such a situation. From the year 1300’s to today, the English law has disapproved assisted suicide. In the modern history, the first anti euthanasia law to be enacted in the United States was introduced in the state of New York. Euthanasia societies were also established in England and the United States of America in the year 1935 and 1938 respectively and 1937 and were also declared legal in Switzerland.
The post war period experienced the 1940’s and 1950s Nazi euthanasia which was involuntary. Church leaders spoke strongly against this act especially the Catholic Church. In 1990 Dr. Jack Kevorkian made headlines all over the world for his practice of euthanasia to his parents; and n 1994, Oregon voters passed a bill on the doctor assisted suicide that was eventually approved. The Supreme Court then went ahead and allowed such laws in 1997. A more recent development of the practice occurred the Florida. A woman named Terri Schiaro had her feeding tube in 2005. She had been having it since 1990. The U.S. Supreme Court in July 1997 upheld one decisions made by New York and Washington states on criminalized suicide. (http://www.assistedsuicide.org/)
In the U.S. among the laws that exist is the Oregon law, a state law that was enacted in 1997 which specifically approves physician assisted suicide. However, it came under attack by the U.S. attorney General John Ashcroft, who threatened to revoke the licenses of doctors who practiced it. The law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in January 2006. In 2005, the law makers in California introduced the compassionate choices Act in 2005 and gain reintroduced it in February 2007. The Act was shelved in June 2007 and it was decided that it gets re introduced in January 2008. There laws can also be found in the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland among others (Halpern & Freedman, 1997).
The Netherlands established certain rules to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia in 2002. This law offered narrow guidelines for doctors. The act can only be carried out only if the patient is severe pain and approval for this. In 2002, Belgium legalized euthanasia and the law is that two doctors must be involved including a psychologist and can only be carried out if the patient’s competency is in doubt. The doctor and patient have to negotiate on the mode of death, whether lethal injection or prescribed overdose. In Switzerland, the law has been in existence since 1941 and allows physician and non-physician assisted suicide but euthanasia is illegal. There are three right to die organizations which help terminally ill people by providing counseling services and issuing them with lethal drugs. Death by injection is banned (Halpern & Freedman, 1997)
Dr. Jack Kerorkin, a Michigan pathologist was in favour of assisted suicide. He had a machine dubbed “suicide machine”, in which he it assisted patients to inject themselves with a lethal injection of potassium chloride. He however was charged with second degree murder and faced an eight year imprisonment sentence. He can greatly be remembered for having assisted approximately 130 people who needed his services.
The pro side of assisted suicide or euthanasia although a minority group feel that people with terminal illnesses experience a lot of pain and this makes them give up in life. They argue that individuals have their rights and they should not be interfered by anyone.
They also argue out that people with terminal diseases often suffer from depression, they experience chronic pain, due to poverty these people are not able to meet huge expenses incurred by them and therefore it would be of beneficial to them if assisted suicide is given to them if at all they need it. Other reason given by this pro euthanasia group is that most of these terminally ill patients have lost their independence and therefore they feel they are a burden to their dependants.
Those who oppose the assisted suicide feel that religious rights are violated. This is also devaluing an individual’s life. Religious groups have been on the forefront campaigning against assisted suicide. They also oppose abortion. They feel that people define their own lives but should never practice suicide as an option. They believe that God supports people in suffering. However a sizeable number of who have liberal religious beliefs support euthanasia.
Other groups include medical associations whose members are dedicated to saving people’s lives. There are also other groups concerned with disabled people who feel that euthanasia as a practice is out to kill disabled people without their consent. (www.cbc.ca/news/background/assisted.suicide/).
Today, modern medicine is still under dilemma on whether to practice euthanasia or not and it is quite clear that no particular group clearly displays its position. Assisted suicide will continue be practiced both morally and ethically as for long as the debate continues.
Assisted Suicide. Accessed on 28 June 2007 from www.assisted suicide.org/
CBC news in Depth: Assisted suicide. Accessed on 28 June 2007 from www.cbc.ca/news/background/assisted suicide/
Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide. Accessed on 28 June 2007 from http://www.religious tolerance.org/euth 1.htm.
Halpern, A. & Freedman, M. (1997). Oregon’s suicide law creates a slippery slope. New York Times, New York, NY,
Robert, F. (1997). Physician.Assisted Suicide. Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0253332820.