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Death with Dignity - Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide

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Essay title: Death with Dignity - Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide

Death with Dignity

Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) are two highly debated topics in today’s society. Though these two topics are often confused, they are two entirely different things. PAS is when a doctor supplies information or the means for a painless suicide to a patient. The patient then does what they see fit with the information or prescription. Euthansia is when a doctor is directly and actively involved in the suicide, such as giving a lethal injection (Robinson “Euthanasia and PAS” 1). While committing suicide is not an illegal act, both forms of assisted suicide are illegal in Canada and the United States, except for Oregon (Robinson “Euthanasia and PAS” 1). Why is this illegal? Many people in our country feel that it is unethical for a doctor to help a patient extinguish his or her life. After all, this does go against the Hippocratic Oath all doctors must take. It is believed that doctors must prolong life, not end it. But surely, in a nation where innocent unborn babies are slaughtered on a daily basis with the help of doctors, adults who are in a digressive state and in full control of the mental capabilities should have the right of a physician’s help in committing suicide.

Each side of the PAS debate has a tendency to over exaggerate their position. Pro-life advocates refer to PAS as Physician Assisted Murder while right to die groups argue that the denial of PAS is a violation of a person’s basic rights and is therefore a form of discrimination (Robinson “Further Information” 3). It is important that we break down these positions and address each point one by one.

Right to Die groups have a tendency to publicize cases about people who are in intractable pain. While these cases do exist, they are rare. The reality of this situation is that the majority of patients with intense pain have access to adequate pain medication (Robinson “Further Information” 2). Many faith groups are also against PAS. They believe that no human has the right to decided when life ends and suicide should never be an option. But it is not fair to force those beliefs on those who do not share them. Some people also believe that legalizing PAS would pressure patients and not allow them make their own decision (Robinson “Further Information” 4). Many also fear that suicide rate would soar if people were to be freely given assistance in dying. Another fear is that a patient may be depressed and see suicide as a “quick fix” (Robinson “Introduction” 3). Pro-life groups also argue that patients with out health care may feel pressure to choose PAS in order to alleviate a burden on their families.

Oregon has developed a wonderfully controlled system that should be installed in the rest of the United States. Oregon battles almost every argument against the act through the stipulations of the law. Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act provides the following stipulations:

The law states that, in order to participate, a patient must be: 1) 18 years of age or older, 2) a resident of Oregon, 3) capable of making and communicating health care decisions for him/herself, and 4) diagnosed with a terminal illness that will lead to death within six (6) months. It is up to the attending physician to determine whether these criteria have been met.

Then, the following steps must be fulfilled: 1) the patient must make two oral requests to the attending physician, separated by at least 15 days; 2) the patient must provide a written request to the attending physician, signed in the presence of two witnesses, at least one of whom is not related to the patient; 3) the attending physician and a consulting physician must confirm the patient's diagnosis and prognosis; 4) the attending physician and a consulting physician must determine whether the patient is capable of making and communicating health care decisions for him/herself; 5) if either physician believes the patient's judgment is impaired by a psychiatric or psychological disorder (such as depression), the patient must be referred for a psychological examination; 6) the attending physician must inform the patient of feasible alternatives to assisted suicide including comfort care, hospice care, and pain control; 7) the attending physician must request, but may not require, the patient to notify their next-of-kin of the prescription request. A patient can rescind a request at any time and in any manner. The attending physician will also offer the patient an opportunity to rescind his/her request at the end of the 15-day waiting period following the initial request to participate. (FAQs 2-3)

The thought that suicide rates would soar is also battled through the seven years of documentation in Oregon after the law was passed. In 1998, only twenty three people

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