[This article is adapted from a paper that I wrote for Philosophy and Ethics class]
Resolution: Resolved, that an individual has the right to decide when and how they should die without governmental or organizational interference.
Thesis: What is often called "death with dignity" is nothing more than suicide, and physician-assisted suicides are severe violations of medical ethics.
On November 8, 1994, Oregon became the first state to allow physician-assisted suicide (“State by State Guide to Physician-Assisted Suicide”). Since then four other states—California, Montana, Vermont, and Washington—have followed suit (ibid). This has sparked a debate in America about whether or not an individual has a right to choose when and how he or she dies. These laws may have sparked a debate in America, but the rest of the world has been debating this for centuries. Great philosophers and ethicists, such as Hippocrates and Plato found repugnant the idea that suicide was in any way dignified. In their view, any suicide was abhorrent. I concur.
I would like to begin by dispelling with this idea that a person's choosing the time and method of their own death is a dignified death. It is not. Dignity is defined as “a way of appearing or behaving that suggests seriousness and self-control” (“Dignity”). Suicide is far from this. Dignity is also defined as “the quality of being worthy of honor or respect” (ibid). Suicide is not respectable, nor is it worthy of honor. Hence, suicide is not a dignified death. However, this is not the only issue with suicide. It also raises a number of ethical concerns, of which I would like to address six.
First, it is important to point out that even many who are in favor of allowing for so-called “death with dignity” and physician-assisted suicides also argue that they should only be allowed in certain cases, such as a terminally-ill patient with only six months to live and only with the help of a physician. A quick survey will show that this is their case (“Should Physician-Assisted Suicide Be Legal?”). Those who argue this position clearly see an ethical issue with allowing “death with dignity” for everyone. If so-called “death with dignity” is such a good position from an ethical standpoint, why not defend the right of every person to “die with dignity”? There would not be a problem with allowing it in many more cases, if not in most, if it were a good thing for physicians, patients, and society. The fact that there is a problem with this illustrates that there is an ethical issue with the idea of so-called “death with dignity”.
Second, I would like to point out that physician-assisted suicides are contrary to the Hippocratic Oath. This oath, ripe with language promising to help patients, should be the gold standard that all physicians adhere to. Hence, not only is physician-assisted suicide a violation of medical ethics, but those physicans who assist in a patient's suicide have violated their integrity. For centuries, the Hippocratic Oath has been seen as the standard of medical ethics. The Hippocratic Oath states “I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect” (“Hippocratic Oath”). If a physician truly believes in the Hippocratic Oath, he or she cannot defend physician-assisted suicides in any capacity. A physician who agrees with this oath’s pledge to help patients cannot be both consistent and have a good conscience if he or she chooses to then end another human being’s life via physician-assisted suicide.
Third, a physician-assisted suicide does not solve the problems of the terminally-ill. If the purpose of the physician is to help instead of harm the terminally ill, then a physician cannot assist in their death. Hence, those who argue in support of physician-assisted suicide argue that this is a moral and ethical position due to its ability to “help” the one who is dying are absolutely incorrect. This is an unethical and immoral position, as it does not “help” the one who is dying. Rather, it speeds up the problem. This cannot be acceptable as a medical ethic.
Fourth, it is important to note that the patient who is being assisted in his or her suicide is not the only one affected by an assisted suicide. We must consider the spouses, children, grandchildren, parents, siblings, and other family members of the person seeking suicide. In addition, we must also consider friends and others who are close to the individual, yet are not family members. Since these are all affected, it would be immoral not to consider their perspectives on this issue. I doubt that any of them will be saying that it is alright to kill their dearly loved grandmother because Grandma wanted to die. It would be immoral to allow the death of their dearly loved one without considering how it will affect each and every individual that would be affected by such an action.
Fifth, many who wish to end their life by means of assisted suicide are not mentally stable enough to make a rational decision of this magnitude. Many have pointed out that mental issues, such as depression, are one of the reasons why some desire an assisted suicide. This is “borne out by many studies and years of experience” (“Mental Illness and Euthanasia”). It is ethically wrong to take advantage of someone who is not mentally stable enough to make a rational decision. Assisting or suggesting assisted suicide is nothing less than taking advantage of the depressed. This is especially wrong when the consequence of the physician's actions will result in a permanent change that cannot be undone—death.
Finally, we should note that doctors are constantly discovering new ways to treat diseases and illnesses that were once deemed incurable. The world once thought that both malaria and smallpox were incurable. Today, we are able to treat both. It is very possible that the same thing could happen to an individual with a terminal illness. Someone could be seeking an assisted suicide because he or she is extremely depressed about cancer. Yet we could find a cure to cancer in the very near future, perhaps even within the next 6 months. Someone could go through the horror of having an assisted suicide without realizing that a cure was just around the corner. Assisted suicide does not provide assistance to those who are suffering. Instead, it only shortens their lives and kills the potential for them to be cured of their illness.
In summary, I have presented six different reasons why assisted suicide is not a dignified death. So-called “death with dignity” is a moral disaster and an ethical catastrophe. It is not dignified. It is not respectable. It is horrible. I think that any reasonable person who views this from the ethical perspective would say the same.
"Dignity." Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.
"Hippocratic Oath." MedicineNet. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.
"Mental Illness and Euthanasia." Life.org. Web. 26 Mar. 2016. <http://www.life.org.nz/euthanasia/abouteuthanasia/abouteuthanasia2/>.
"Should Physician-assisted Suicide Be Legal?" Debate.org. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.
"State-by-State Guide to Physician-Assisted Suicide - Euthanasia - ProCon.org."ProConorg Headlines. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.