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young, most of us do not think about making a conscious decision to die. We look forward to years of long and healthy life, and if death ever seems appealing it is as an antidote to depression. It does not often, if ever, occur to us that there will be a time when we look forward to the "good death" promised by euthanasia.
But it is inevitable that for many of us there will come a time in our lives when suicide may indeed seem appealing because we are fighting a losing battle against a certainly fatal disease that fills our remaining days with pain and despair. In such a position many of us may wish to have our doctors help us die by prescribing for us drugs that when we ourselves take them will prove to be fatal. Or we may wish that other people should have this option if they so choose. In other words, this paper argues that physician-assisted suicide should be legal in every state.
This is not now the case. Most states, along with most countries, have banned most forms of euthanasia, classifying the act of assisting someone else to die as a form of homicide. Even passive euthanasia - in which a person has been allowed to die because some drug or procedure was withheld, has often been punished as severely as the kind of act that we now classify as murder (Moreno 31). While such bans may be in agreement with conservative religious points-of-view, they do not accord with the wishes of most Americans.
Those who believe that physicians should have the legal right to prescribe lethal drugs to their patients as a part of the physician's overall role in caring for a patient (care that must sometimes include the acknowledgement of death's dominion) have pushed to legalize what is known as "physician-assisted suicide."
Euthanasia can be divided into passive (sometimes called negative) euthanasia in which someone is allowed to die by the withholding of certain kinds of treatments. Active euthanasia, on the other hand, involves taking a deliberate action to cause someone's death. There are intermediary routes between these two, such as giving a patient a level of morphine that is sufficient to alleviate pain that may also hasten death. In this case, the deliberate action is not made to kill a person but rather to reduce pain; the effect of hastening death is an indirect result of drugs like morphine.
Many people have argued that this last course is the best one: It does not require doctors to be "executioners" while at the same time allows them to treat their patients' pain. However, such a course does not take into consideration the fact that not all pain (such as that associated with cancer) can be adequately treated and even some patients not insignificant pain but facing increasing disability may also wish to end their lives.
A number of arguments against the legalization of physician-assisted suicide have been made, but while many of these objections sound legitimate, a closer examination of them demonstrates that they are logically flawed.
Among the most common arguments against physician-assisted suicide are that it will be used to kill healthy people (for example, by relatives wanting an inheritance).
However, it cannot be stressed enough that voluntary euthanasia -- like the kind practiced in the Netherlands or the kind that has been proposed in a number of U.S. states - always requires an explicit request by the dying person or a person that individual has formally designated as his or her legal representative as Humphry argues in his seminal work on euthanasia. It is never - as is sometimes believed or assumed - something that a doctor or relative can decide for someone else to "put them out of their misery." Such an act would be homicide rather than euthanasia.
Another common - and logically problematic objection raised to the practice of physician-assisted suicide is the claim that to ask physicians to prescribe lethal does of drugs would allow doctors to determine who should live and die. However, laws concerning physician-assisted suicide always require written consent from the person himself or herself and consultation with more than one doctor.
Other opponents argue that the practice puts doctors in fundamental violation of the physicians' Hippocratic Oath. We see this idea broached in the American Medical Association's view on the issue, a statement that we may "deconstruct" using Toulman's model for logical analysis.
The AMA's position against physician-assisted suicide is rooted in its belief that such an act is "fundamentally incompatible with the physician's role as healer."
In its landmark ruling that there is no constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide, the U.S. Supreme Court chose those words to explain part of the reasoning for its decision -- the state's interest in protecting the integrity and ethics of the medical profession. The court also accepted other key arguments that the AMA and its allies made in friend-of-the-court briefs -- the distinction between a patient's right to self-determination in ending care vs. The intentional killing of a patient, the effectiveness of palliative care, slippery slope concerns over regulating such assistance, and the risk to depressed and other vulnerable patients.
These concepts were woven into the court's analysis of the constitutional issues of due process and equal treatment under the law, which decided the issue. Taken altogether, the court's decision deflates much of the rhetoric of the pro-suicide movement, which has consistently confused individual rights with the misapplication of a physician's skills. The court's unanimous ruling is a major victory that protects both patients and the patient-physician relationship.
In fact, despite the AMA's position as stated above, those advocating the legalization of physician-assisted suicide (who are not really a "pro-suicide movement") understand that individual rights have a higher degree of legal protection than do the professional standards of physicians. The "claim" (or position) made here is wrong on an a priori status; it is also not supported by the "grounds," the rational or facts inherent in the claim, which is that the court upheld the ethics of the medical profession. Both the "warrant" and "backing" - the primary and subsequent pieces of evidence offered to back up the claim is also false: They are not in fact directly related to the claim.
The "qualifier" which is that the "pro-suicide movement, which has consistently confused individual rights with the misapplication of a physician's skills" is a strawman argument and because this is so, the "rebuttal" has no logical merit.
We can see the logical inconsistency of the AMA's position in the fact that physicians quite often do harm to their patients because they believe that the ends justifies the means, and this includes hastening death through treating pain. What the AMA is objecting to is that patients are now demanding greater power in their relationship with physicians, who have before had the sole authority to dictate treatment. However, rather than admit that the association is fighting to uphold the power of physicians (which would most certainly not be a popular position), the AMA has cloaked its intentions in language that suggests that doctors are only trying to look out for their patients' best interests - without letting the patients themselves determine what those best interests are.
Although the amount of publicity that euthanasia has received in the past several years might lead one to think that it was an issue of only recent importance, in fact it has been debated and generally accepted both in legal and moral terms for centuries. This may be in part because euthanasia was an even more important needed choice before the invention of the powerful pain-relieving drugs that we have now. Euthanasia has historically not simply an option for the old and dying but also for the young afflicted with terrible diseases, and this too must have been in part the result of the lack of other medical options for those who faced diminished quality of life as Rosenblatt argues in his historical overview of euthanasia.
Today medical technology is so advanced that it is able to duplicate functions of the human organs allowing the patients to stay alive longer than ever before. These great advancements in technology have, however, for many come with a high price: While terminally ill patients are able to live longer, they are likely to spend much of their last moments in suffering, unable to experience quality of life and unable to focus their last moments on anything else but pain. Many individuals in this position seek to end their lives in as much comfort and dignity as possible.
A number of states are considering (or have passed, in the case of Oregon) measures that allow for physician-assisted suicide, according to data gathered from the official website from Religious Tolerance Organization. However, legislating issues that involve religion, moral and medical ethics is tremendously difficult even in the most democratic society in the world. The ongoing legal showdown between the state of…[continue]
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