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Physician Assisted Suicide and Its Use in Palliative Care

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If you or a loved one were battling a terminally ill disease and wanted to end the suffering would you consider having Physician Assisted Suicide? Physician Assisted Suicide is controversial in the medical field. Physician Assisted Suicide refers to the practice of medicine, in which a physician provides a potentially lethal medication, to a terminally ill, suffering patient, at the patient’s request. This can also be referred to as “physician aid-in-dying”, and “patient administered hastened death.” At the moment PAS is legal in California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington Sate for terminally ill patients. PAS should be legal around the world for patients battling terminal diseases, because it will end their suffering, vital organs can be saved, and allows patients to die in peace, just by simply knowing they had a choice to end their life and pain. Such essays on physician-assisted suicide engage in a deeply contemplative exploration of the ethical, legal, and moral complexities surrounding end-of-life decisions, examining the arguments for and against this highly debated practice.

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Benefits of Making Physician-Assisted Suicide (PAS) Legal

PAS should be legal because it gives terminally ill patients many benefits. One of these benefits would be that if the patient decides to have PAS, then the pain and suffering ends. Often, patients who battle terminal diseases commonly, experience painful and intolerable pain even if they have medication to ease the pain. According to Liz Szabo, PAS should be legal around the world because, “ PAS can help terminally ill patients have the right to die without suffering intractable pain in their final days or weeks.” There have been family members that have said that their loved one feels relieved and suffered less, thanks to PAS.

Another benefit of making PAS legal is that vital organs can be saved. There are many times, at a patient’s request, when the organs can be used to save another patient’s life. Dr. Joseph Scalea, said, “ When a person dies by physician assisted suicide, with a legalized lethal medication, that she or he requested, and the body is then operated on to retrieve organs for donation into other people.” Those who have had PAS can potentially help reduce the waitlist for organ donations. If done and asked early, at patients request, vital organs can be used to save another persons life who has been waiting on the organ transplant list for years.

Making PAS legal around the world will give the patient ‘death with dignity’. A patient may die in peace with no regrets as it was their choice to die peacefully. Many facing a terminally ill disease do not want to die, but because of the terminal disease they have, they are dying. Many of them seek PAS because they want to avoid unbearable suffering, and want to die in peace. Ed Gogol writes, “ Patients already are dying and therefore are not choosing death over life but one form of death over another.”

Many terminally ill patients who have legally accessed PAS have found the word ‘suicide’ insulting and rude, they believe that this term sounds derogatory to them and their loved ones. Before undergoing PAS in 2019, Lois Schaefer writes, “ All I am asking for is to have some choice over how I die. Portraying me as being suicidal is disrespectful and hurtful to me and my loved ones. It adds insult to injury by dismissing all that I have already endured; the failed attempts to cure me, the progressive decline of my physical state and the anguish which has involved exhaustive reflection and contemplation leading me to this very personal and intimate decision about my life and how I would like it to end.” Schaefer, who passed away by PAS in early 2019, wanted to have a choice of how she died, even after the failed attempts to cure her did not work. She insisted that she wasn’t killing herself her terminal illness was taking care of that. She just wanted to die in peace without suffering knowing it was her choice to end her life.

Many believe that PAS should be legal because it gives the patient many benefits. Others believe that PAS should be illegal everywhere around the world and have many reasons. Many say that it corrupts the practice and profession of medicine by permitting the tools for healing to be used as techniques for killing. According to a group that is against PAS, they write, “If legalizing PAS occurs, then the role of the doctor changes, in the healthcare industry. Offering to help someone die is fundamentally incompatible with the idea that doctors should be healers.” They believe that the reason doctors go to medical school in the first place is to help improve the lives and health of other people, not to use their techniques for healing to end the life of a terminally ill patient.

Many believe that performing PAS on patients violates human value. Human value keeps people from harming each other. According to Anderson, it violates human dignity if this becomes legal worldwide as he writes, “A legal system that allows assisted suicide to be performed abandons the natural life of all citizens.” He believes that this violates the human value and that human dignity should be the main priority of the doctors caring for a patient. Anderson insists that instead of embracing PAS, we should instead respond with true compassion and solidarity, and instead of helping patients kill themselves, they should offer them appropriate medical care. While those whose death is approaching, hospice care and having family by their side to accompany them in their last moments of life can make them feel better.

Other individuals say that PAS ignores palliative care. Palliative care is a specialized medical care for people living with a serious illness. This care provides relief from the symptoms and stress of the illness. Overall it’s goal is to improve the patient’s and family’s quality of life. According to Natalie Regoli, “Although there is an argument to be made that everyone should have the choice on how to manage their life, it also seems disadvantageous to give up on people when there is still the possibility of a recovery.” In other words, the medical field and doctors shouldn’t give up on patients just because they have a terminal disease.

PAS should be legal because many families would rather see their loved one die in peace and would rather know when they die instead of having to wait until when it “happens” which would hurt even more. Family members will know when to say their last goodbye vs. “when it happens” then there may be no last goodbye.

Yes, with a loved ones passing comes suffering and sadness, but family members should be a little relieved that the patient is no longer in pain or suffering as it was their request to pass away peacefully. It is certainly a terrible thing to suffer, and to have a disease take your life away, little by little. According to Kenneth Magnuson, who’s a professor in the Theology Department at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and has studied PAS, said, “7 in 10 Americans agree that doctors should be permitted to help a patient commit suicide if the patient request it.” Many seek PAS because they don’t want to suffer from pain anymore, as their terminal disease is slowly killing them.

Conclusion

Physician Assisted Suicide should be legal around the world, for terminally ill adults, to relieve the suffering and pain they are going through, to allow a patient’s vital organs to be saved, and for the patient to die in peace. Before dying in 2017 after undergoing PAS in 2017, Sandy Briden wrote, “I don’t want my family to see me suffering, I don’t want that to be their last memory of me. I just want to say goodbye to my family and drift off peacefully. Knowing I had the option of an assisted death when things get too much would allow me to live now, without the constant fear of what might happen at the end. For me assisted suicide isn’t about dying, its about living.” A physician would be able to prescribe medication to the patient to hasten death at the patient’s choice, when they feel ready, to give the family and patient time to say their last goodbye. Finally, the patient and the family’s anxiety about future suffering would be reduced.

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