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Medical Ethics and Percieved Kindness of Assisted Suicide

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What is the definition of an ‘act of human kindness”? Would you help or assist someone who is suffering tremendously end their life? Evelyn Marten did, and for that she was ruthlessly prosecuted over a period of two and a half years. For committing acts of kindness. Her life sentences would have been approximately 28 years, 14 for each offense if found guilty. The wanting to help end lives comes from human compassion for the suffering, however assisted suicide has generated intense moral controversy.

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Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide is a growing social issue of concern in Canada because more than 1,300 people in Canada have died with medical assistance since the option became a law. Bill C-14 governing medical assistance in dying passed on June 17, 2016. Amy Hasbrouck, who is legally blind and speaks for Not Dead Yet Canada. says ‘This is very personal for me,’ ‘These are public policy decisions that end up sacrificing the lives of old, ill and disabled people.’. The central question asked is, is euthanasia/assisted suicide moral, and do different demographics have different views on this topic?

This first source talks about if physician-assisted suicide is ethical or not. In this article, it states that the main argument for assisted suicide is one of autonomy. People should have the right to take their life when it seems like the appropriate and best thing to do. One of the main arguments against assisted suicide is people fear that it will become an ethical problem. Once physician-assisted suicide is allowed for capable people who are terminally ill and can take the medication on their own, it will eventually end up being offered to people who are no longer mentally fit. Still, they must make two verbal requests, within 15 days apart, and a written request along with two witnesses, two doctors, an attending physician and a consulting physician. They must make sure that the patient meets all the conditions. There are a lot of loops to go through. This is by far not an easy process. The rules are there to try to make sure patients know and understand what they are doing and are not compelled to doing so. One of the main arguments against assisted suicide is people fear that it will become an ethical problem. Once physician-assisted suicide is allowed for competent people who are terminally ill and can take the medication on their own, it will eventually end up being offered to people who are no longer mentally fit.

The second source displayed that according to a forum poll, 77% of Canadians support assisted suicide. The survey containing 1,440 voters, found that support was strong across all age groups and political affiliations. The Canadian Medical Association agreed that the principles of assisted suicide/euthanasia include the importance of patient consent and capacity, and respect for patient autonomy, as well as respect for physician’s values. Results from a survey that the CMA conducted online reveal that 29% of Canadian Medical Association members would contemplate helping a patient end their life. Although this is only a third of doctors who say they would aid a patient in dying, this represents thousands of physicians across the country. Out of that 29%, 19% said they would help even if suffering was purely psychological and 43% would help a patient who had a non-terminal illness end their life.

The third source researched the experiences of people with a “terminal illness”, focusing on the patient’s perspective of euthanasia and assisted suicide. The research method used was a qualitative study using narrative interviews conducted throughout the UK. There was a wide variety of demographics in the research sample; younger and older people from different social backgrounds, with malignant and non‐malignant disease. Results showed that assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia was supported strongly by most people. A few of the reasons given included pain and anticipated pain, fear of indignity, loss of control and cognitive impairment. Some had seen others die and were already convinced that this should be a right, and others did not want to be a burden. The Netherlands and Belgium allow euthanasia performed by a doctor, and define it as the act, undertaken by a third party, which deliberately ends a person’s life at his or her request. Physician assisted suicide is legal in The Netherlands, Belgium and Oregon. Assisted suicide, with or without the involvement of a doctor, is legal in Switzerland. In Australia, the Northern Territory approved euthanasia in 1995, but in 1997 this bill was overturned by parliament. Findings showed most people were between 61-70 years old, their ethnicity was white, had a professional or higher managerial occupation before becoming ill, and were recruited through hospice staff (nurses, social worker, consultants).

Another source that was researched discusses the court case ‘Carter vs. Canada’ in 2011. This source discusses the court case ‘Carter vs. Canada’ that took place in 2011. Lee Carter was one of three plaintiffs to opposition the Criminal Code of Canada for banning assisted suicide. At the time, the criminal code stated, “Everyone who … aids or urges a person to commit suicide … is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.” Carter was concerned about her mother who suffered from severe symptoms related to Spinal Stenosis, so she took her mother to Switzerland where a physician could lawfully assist with her suicide. Carter feared the possibility of her being charged in Canada because of her decision. This led to her goal of changing nationwide legislation. A person who needs around-the-clock care but maintains enough health to continue living, may consider this lifestyle degrading and might want to choose to die a “respectable” death.

One more source that was researched was an article that analyzed non-faith-based arguments against physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. The article found four non theistic arguments against physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia: “it offends me”, slippery slope, “pain can be alleviated”, physician integrity and patient trust. Sulmasy suggests that suicide devalues human life, palliative care and modern therapeutics can more adequately manage pain and that participating in suicide violates the integrity of the physician and weakens the trust patients place in physicians to heal and not to harm. Sulmasy explains that physician assisted suicide represents bad ethical reasoning, bad medicine, and bad policy.

The final source being used as a reference examines the amount of people that choose assisted suicide where it is legal. Oregon was the first US state allowing terminally-ill people to end their lives through self-administration of lethal medications. Based on Oregon’s statistics since 1998, the number of people choosing to use the Act when they are terminally ill has steadily risen over the years. However, they found that there are far more prescriptions given out than deaths; a little over a third of people who initially get prescriptions change their minds or decide to extend their life. Since then, other states have done the same, for example Washington passed a Death with Dignity Act in 2008. In Europe, Belgium and the Netherlands also have assisted suicide laws, but they do not allow foreigners to come into the country to take advantage of the law, as Switzerland does.

The overall research of this topic deals with Health and Ethics, specifically Euthanasia/Assisted suicide. It is a growing issue that needs to be further discussed because of the various opinions on the topic, and the pros and cons tied with it, as well as the effects it has on the people in an area where it is legal. With all the new developments in technology and medicine giving us the power to save more lives than it was possible in the past. Putting in our hands the cure or the ability to reduce the suffering of patients affected by diseases that were once fatal and extremely painful. Although medical technology gives us the power to sustain life or gives us the ability to prolong death, extremely ill patients’ capacities cannot be restored. Degenerating conditions cannot be reversed, and the pain cannot be eliminated. The primary question posed is, is euthanasia/assisted suicide moral? And do different demographics have different views on this topic? What about others who are not able to communicate? Or those who descend into hopeless, morbid, terminal disease and lose their ability to give consent? Are such people to be excluded from mercy we would demonstrate and certainly demand for any other living creature? People are being asked to support an initiative, entitled the humane and dignified death act, that would allow a physician to terminate the life of a terminal ill person upon their request and, of course, backed by properly executed legal documents.

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