Ethics in Physician Assisted Suicide
PHI208: Ethics and Moral Reasoning
November 18, 2013
What is ethics? Ethics are moral principles that explains a person’s behavior. Dr. Jack Kevorkian a formal pathologist, is best known for assisting terminally ill patients with their death which is known as physician assisted suicide. Dr. Kevorkian once said; “In any project the important factor is your belief. Without belief there can be no successful outcome.” Kevorkian believed in every terminal patient’s right to physician assisted suicide as he also once said famously that “Dying is not a crime.” In 1999 Kevorkian was sentenced to 10-25 ...view middle of the document...
Baxter et al v. Montana is another example of a court case with a person with a terminal illness who wanted physician assisted suicide as an option. Robert Baxter, a marine veteran, was suffering with leukemia when he filed a case along with four Montana doctors seeking recognition that the right to choose aid in dying is protected by the Montana Constitution which guarantees privacy, dignity and equal rights. Although Mr. Baxter died of his illness just hours after District Court Judge Dorothy McCarter ruled that “The Montana constitutional rights of individual privacy and human dignity, taken together, encompass the right of a competent terminally ill patient to die with dignity” on December 5 2008. The debate over physician-assisted suicide has never been a simple one, and in the 48 states where the practice remains illegal, the issue has only grown more complicated in recent years (Breslow, Jason). In March 1998, a woman in Oregon became the first person to commit suicide legally with the help of her doctor because she was dying of breast cancer.
Voters in Massachusetts were the latest to weigh in on whether it should be legal for doctors to prescribe drugs to help terminally ill patients end their lives. On November 7, 2012 the vote to assisted suicide was defeated by “51 percent to 49 percent with 96 percent of precincts counted, and was the closest of three questions on the Massachusetts.” O’Malley said in a statement, ‘‘It is my hope and prayer that the defeat of Question 2 will help all people to understand that for our brothers and sisters confronted with terminal illness we can do better than offering them the means to end their lives.’’ A year prior to the decision to make assisted suicide illegal in Massachusetts, the state participated in an open conversation about giving terminally-ill patients the choice to end their life. The Death with Dignity act would have allowed terminally-ill patients the choice to end their pain and suffering through life-ending medication but because the ballot question did not pass Oregon and Washington remains the only two states that has legalize physician assisted suicide. “The Massachusetts question mirrors the law in other states where the terminally ill have had this right for 15 years.”
Why would anyone consider physician assisted suicide? There have been great strides made in improving end-of-life care through palliative care and hospice programs, but sometimes it's just not enough. The care that’s offered to the elderly and chronically ill in America is still less than ideal. “An estimated 40-70% of patients die in pain, another 50-60% die feeling short-of-breath; 90% of nursing homes, where patients go to receive 24 hour nursing care, are gravely understaffed” (Morrow, Angela). Doctor participation in the law is completely voluntary. When the chronically ill or elderly are entered into a facility such as a hospital, nursing facility or...