Sociological Aspects Of Death And Dying
Assisted suicide is a very controversial topic in American society that must be dealt with. In assisted suicide, a patient who is terminally ill requests the doctor to administer a lethal dose of medication to end his life. Assisted suicide brings up many moral and legal issues regarding the right of a patient to die with respect and the duties of a doctor. This issue is divided among people who believe that doctor assisted suicide is illegal and immoral and those who believe that suicide is a right that people have. Doctors who aid a patient to commit suicide are performing an illegal act and should be penalized to the full extent of the law.
According to most state laws assisted suicide is illegal. An assisted suicide is a form of murder since the doctor administers a lethal dose of medication to the patients. Therefore, a doctor who has performed this act should receive the jail sentence of a murderer. Some people believe that these doctors are not performing anything illegal and that they should continue their practices. This group of people believe in euthanasia, meaning an easy and painless death or a peaceful manner of dying (Webster 631). This includes committing suicide when the person is fully competent but wishes to end his life as a result of the pain that he must endure every day. Committing suicide is viewed by its opponents as an act of cowardice that many people perform because they do not want to deal with their problems in life. This type of action should be dealt with immediately. A study shows that one-fifth of all doctors and nurses have actively helped end a patient’s life (Van Biema 2). This is not a promising statistic for the future of America. One out of every five doctors has helped a person escape his life.
Aside from being illegal, doctor assisted suicide is also immoral. From the following information, it can be clearly seen that doctors who commit these crimes have violated many of the rules and values that they agreed to follow when they became a doctor. They have violated all the moral values that they agreed to follow when they became doctors. A doctor’s job is to help a patient at any cost, not help the patient to end their lives. Doctors who have aided patients in committing assisted suicides have violated the Hippocratic Oath, which very doctor must swear to before he receives his license to practice. The Hippocratic Oath states, I will not give poison to anyone, though asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a plan?Van Biema 1). This means that doctors are not able to prescribe poison or a lethal dosage of medicine, to anyone, even at the patient’s request. Unfortunately, many doctors do not follow this Oath.
Doctors who violate the Oath of Hippocrates should no longer be able to practice medicine. Any other violation of the Hippocratic Oath results in a suspended or revoked medical license; therefore, prescribing lethal doses of medicine should also result in a suspension. However, many doctors secretly prescribe lethal medicines to their patients and hope that the authorities do not find out. Jack Kevorkian, otherwise known as Dr. Death? has committed forty six assisted or supervised suicides. Out of these forty six suicides, he has been charged for three counts of murder in Michigan and released three times(Van Biema 2). This doctor should not be allowed to practice medicine. Many doctors do not support doctor assisted suicide. In fact, fifty three groups of health professionals have signed an American Medical Association brief supporting suicide bans (Van Biema 2).
Once a doctor has violated the Hippocratic Oath, this doctor can no longer be a doctor according to the ethics of medicine. Technically, a doctor can aid a person in committing suicide once, and then no longer be a doctor. After he has violated his oath and is no longer a doctor, he is legally not allowed to prescribe medicine. The one exception to this rule is that the Hippocratic Oath states that a doctor shall not prolong suffering. This means that the doctor can not keep a dying person on life support. However, this doctor is not able to aid a reasonably healthy person who suffers from illness occasionally to commit suicide.
A doctor who does not prescribe medicine to a patient who is suffering from illness is not prolonging suffering. A doctor who is prolonging suffering is one who insists on keeping a patient on life support although the patient has no chance of being cured. If the decision is made by the dying patient’s loved ones, a doctor should be allowed to pull the plug on a dying patient. However, if the patient is living on his own but has occasional pain, the doctor has no right to aid this patient in killing himself. Dr. William Wood, clinical director of the Winship Cancer Center at Emory University in Atlanta states, If we treat their depression and we treat their pain, I’ve never had a patient who wanted to die?Lemonick 1).
Many people argue that assisted suicide allows a person to die a dignified death. The truth is that committing suicide is far from a dignified death. A dignified death means that the person committed a great act of heroism. An example of someone who died a dignified death is a soldier who gave up his life in order for his country to defeat its foe during war. Doctors who aid patients in committing suicides are doing the reverse of what such a soldier did. Dr. Kevorkian spends a few short hours aiding a person to kill himself and returns with more money. The doctor is not aiding the patient in any way. Someone who has committed suicide has not performed a great act of heroism, and instead performed a great act of cowardice. A person who has killed himself has not saved anyone, and may have hurt his family members.
Many doctors feel that many people will commit suicide if they doctor-assisted suicide is legalized (Lemonick 1). Many people in the world may want to commit suicide but are afraid to do it because of the legal issues. William Wiliams, Washington State Senior Assistant Attorney General says that the state ban on assisted suicide protects lives and keeps people from improperly ending their lives (CNN News). If suicides are legalized, this practice will become more common and easier to do.
Some doctors are taking matters into their own hands as they try to convince their patients not to commit suicide. There should be more doctors like those who try to keep a patient living. For example, Dr. Bry Benjamin gets one to two requests a month for help in dying but talks most of his patients out of it. In an interview with Time Magazine, he stated, You don’t want to give pills to someone you think decided to commit suicide on Tuesday and on Wednesday would have changed his mind?(Lemonick 2). Doctors should not tell people that their lives are bad and that the best thing that they can do is kill themselves.
If a patient comes to a doctor and asks the doctor for aid in committing a suicide, the doctor should have a lengthy conversation with this person. In this conversation, the doctor should do whatever it takes to keep the patient from committing suicide. The doctor and the patient should weigh the advantages and the disadvantages of committing suicide. There are many things that need to be taken into consideration when a patient wants to commit suicide, although many times the doctor will not discuss the topic with the patient. The patient and the doctor should not only see what effect this may cause on the patient, but on the friends and family of the patient. This patient may be leaving behind loved ones that depend on this patient’s existence. If this patient commits suicide, he is not only a coward but is being selfish. Sometimes a patient may commit suicide without even consulting their loved ones. No matter how serious the situation the final answer should be NO?to suicide.
In some extreme cases, the doctors may misinterpret what patients want and may mistakenly assist in their death. One of these cases is discussed in the book edited by Jonathan D. Moreno, Ph. D., entitled Arguing Euthanasia. In this book, an anonymous article that appeared in JAMA in 1988 illustrates this point. This article was published in JAMA to bring up a point that was usually not discussed at that time and was one that the editors of JAMA felt should be brought up. The call came in the middle of the night….Duty called, so I answered the phone. A nurse informed me that a patient was having difficulty getting rest, could I please see her….I grabbed the chart from the nurses station on my way to the patient’s room, and the nurse gave me some hurried details: a 20 year-old girl named Debbie was dying of ovarian cancer. She was having unrelenting vomiting….As I approached the room I could hear loud, labored breathing. I entered and saw an emaciated, dark-haired woman who appeared much older than 20….The chart noted her weight at 80 pounds….Her only words to me were, Let’s get this over with….?I asked the nurse to draw 20 mg of morphine sulfate into a syringe….I took the syringe into the room and told the two women I was going to give Debbie something that would let her rest and to say good-bye….I injected the morphine intravenously and watched to see if my calculations on its effects would be correct. Within seconds her breathing slowed to a normal rate, her eyes closed, and her features softened as she seemed restful at last….With clocklike certainty, within four minutes the breathing rate slowed even more, then became irregular, then ceased…. It’s over, Debbie (Moreno 31-32).
In this case, the doctor was clearly misinterpreting what Debbie wanted to do. A response was later released by Gaylin, Kass, Pellegrino, and Siegler. They responded that, The resident appears to have committed a felony: premeditated murder. Direct intentional homicide is a felony in all American jurisdictions, for which the plea of merciful motive is no excuse. That the homicide was clearly intentional is confirmed by the resident’s act of unrepentant publication (Moreno 33).?The doctors then went on to say that the doctor did not know the patient and did not converse with her family. He never spoke to her physician. He took as an unambiguous command her only words to him, Let’s get this over with. He did not bother finding out what precisely she meant or whether she meant it wholeheartedly (Moreno 33).?
Many doctors claim that aiding a patient to commit suicide is a form of mercy. Many serial killers also claim that they killed their victims as an act of mercy but these serial killers are thrown in jail for life. However, since a doctor commits this crime in a less violent manner, he is not charged with any crime. Action must be taken against doctors who aid patients in committing suicide. These doctors should at least lose their license if not taken to court and charged with murder.
Another woman named Renee did everything in her ability to stay alive. She had brain cancer that later spread to her neck. Because of these tumors, she had many hallucinations. She could sometimes hold a coherent conversation and later become completely insane. Yet with all these problems, she still did not consider the idea of suicide. She did not believe that this would be a good way to die. She had many operations before she finally came to the decision that she wanted to end her life. Although she killed herself in the end, she believed that it was the easy way out.
Doctor assisted suicide remains a topic that is very controversial. The fact of the matter is that these practices are illegal. Even if doctors who practice this were allowed to do so by law, their practices are still morally wrong. Many factors need to be taken into consideration, such as the reaction of loved ones, the legality, and the morality of this issue. When they are, it is seen that a doctor aiding a patient in committing suicide has committed an act that is completely wrong. Some of the factors that prohibit a doctor from doing so are religion, law, and the Hippocratic Oath that every doctor must swear to obey once he becomes a doctor. For this practice to be allowed, there would have to be a world with no laws, religion, or feelings toward others.