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In this paper we have discussed what Physician-Assisted Suicide (PAS) is and how it is seen by different groups of people. To begin with, we have presented the supporting and opposing arguments in a neutral manner. We have also stated our point of view that opposes PAS and presented our reasons for doing so. A conclusion based on our own understanding and different researches, is presented in the end.

By definition, Physician-Assisted Suicide (PAS) means terminating one’s life willingly by use of a lethal substance. A physician may assist in this process either indirectly or directly. During this process, the physician prescribes certain medication to a competent patient with the prime aim of putting an end to patient’s life. (, 2004)

The issue of Physician-Assisted Suicide is widely debated and has opponents and proponents both. Opponents say that PAS contradicts the fundamental beliefs and principles of medicine. Moreover, they also consider PAS as contradicting with a doctor’s job as a healer. (, 2004)

The term ‘Euthanasia’ is used for “the intentional killing by act or omission of a dependent human being for his or her alleged benefit”. ‘Voluntary euthanasia’ is “when the person who is killed has requested to be killed”. ‘Non-voluntary euthanasia’ is “when the person who is killed made no request and gave no consent”. ‘Involuntary euthanasia’ is “when the person who is killed made an expressed wish to the contrary”. ‘Assisted suicide’ is when “someone provides an individual with the information, guidance, and means to take his or her own life with the intention that they will be used for this purpose”. ‘Euthanasia by Action’ is “intentionally causing a person’s death by performing an action such as by giving a lethal injection”. ‘Euthanasia by Omission’ is “intentionally causing death by not providing necessary and ordinary (usual and customary) care or food and water”. (, 2010)

It is important to understand that only when death is an intended result of a particular action may it be referred to as euthanasia. A situation, where there is absence of the intention of taking one’s life, cannot be regarded as euthanasia. Examples of such acts are withdrawal of a treatment that was found to be not desirable, ineffective, or too troublesome. Refraining from commencement of a treatment that is not going to be beneficial for the patient, and giving high dosages of painkillers when needed but dangerous for the patient’s life, are also examples of such a situation. These are rather authorized by law and considered as good medical care when carried out in a proper manner. (, 2010)

Proponents of PAS argue that it is not same as euthanasia because the physician or the doctor only provides the means for death, usually in form of a prescription. The lethal medication, however, is ultimately administered by the patient him or herself rather than the physician. They also argue that PAS needs to be distinguished from some other practices, such as pain medication, terminal sedation, and withdrawal of life-sustaining treatments. A patient who is terminally ill sometimes requires doses of pain medication, which is used for impairment of the respiratory system and thus may hasten death. Court decisions and professional societies regard this as justifiable when done with the primary aim of relieving the patient from suffering. (University of Washington School of Medicine, April 11, 2008)

Terminal sedation is when a terminally ill patient is sedated such that he/she becomes unconscious and then allowed to die of starvation, disease, or dehydration. Withdrawal of life-sustaining treatments is when a competent patient refuses a life-sustaining treatment and takes an informed decision regarding this. Virtual unanimity about respecting this wish is seen in the medical profession as well as the law. (University of Washington School of Medicine, April 11, 2008)

The proponents of PAS also argue that it is rational for a person who chooses death over life when faced with unbearable suffering. They also suggest that a physician has the responsibility of alleviating suffering. They may also do this by assisting in suicide. It is important to understand that these arguments are based on the idea of individual autonomy and recognition of an individual’s right to choose the course of his or her life. This also means the right over how his or her life will end. (University of Washington School of Medicine, April 11, 2008)

It is argued that a competent person has the right to choose his or her death as he or she wants. These decisions regarding the circumstances and time of death are personal and must be given respect to. Hence, respect for autonomy is a major supporting argument for the issue of PAS. Proponents of PAS also suggest that at times refusal of treatment does not hasten death and there is no other option to relieve suffering but suicide. Justice systems are based on the notion that different cases should be treated alike; therefore, such patients should be allowed assisted death. (University of Washington School of Medicine, April 11, 2008)

Some people say that suffering does not only mean pain but also includes different psychological and physical burden. Sometimes a possible way of relieving the patient from suffering is not present and hence PAS is justified in these cases. People holding such views regard PAS as a compassionate way of putting an end to unbearable suffering. (University of Washington School of Medicine, April 11, 2008)

Even though it is in society’s interest to preserve life, in case of a terminally ill person with a strong desire to die, this interest reduces. People argue that a complete ban on PAS means excessive limitations on rights of personal freedom and choice. People with these views believe that PAS should be permitted in peculiar cases. Others also say that PAS already occurs secretly, even though law may not permit it. For instance, apparent use of morphine drips for pain relief can be seen as a clandestine way of euthanasia or PAS. If PAS gets legalized, physicians and patients can discuss these issues openly instead of secretly. (University of Washington School of Medicine, April 11, 2008)

People against PAS consider it unethical and immoral. Their views are based on the notion that PAS conflicts with a physician’s traditional role as a preserver of life. Others also show concern about the possible abuses of PAS in case it gets legalized. For instance, the elderly and people who cannot afford costly and complex palliative treatments may indirectly be pressurized into opting for PAS. (University of Washington School of Medicine, April 11, 2008)

Opponents of PAS argue that sanctity of life must be respected. Most secular and religious traditions forbid taking of an individual’s life. People with these views consider PAS to be morally improper as it conflicts with these beliefs. Some people also focus on the distinction between passive and active PAS. They point out that actively killing someone is different from passively letting someone die. They say that passive PAS is justifiable but active PAS is not. (University of Washington School of Medicine, April 11, 2008)

Opponents of PAS also maintain that if legalized, particular groups of people who cannot afford proper support and care may be forced into PAS. They also suggest that PAS could come to be seen as a cost-containment way. At times, burdened health-care providers and family members may also support PAS. In order to avoid and prevent such abuses, PAS should not be legalized. (University of Washington School of Medicine, April 11, 2008)

Historical ethical teachings and traditions of medicine are strongly against the idea of taking an individual’s life. The Hippocratic oath says,

“I will neither prescribe nor administer a lethal dose of medicine to any patient even if asked nor counsel any such thing nor perform the utmost respect for every human life from fertilization to natural death and reject abortion that deliberately takes a unique human life.” (The Hippocratic Oath, January, 1999)

Moreover, The American Geriatrics Society (AGS), American Medical Association (AMA), and other such major professional groups also disapprove PAS. If PAS is legalized, the public image of medical profession may be damaged. (University of Washington School of Medicine, April 11, 2008)

There is also debate regarding the fallibility or misjudgment of the medical profession, which is indeed a possibility. Sometimes physicians may make mistakes. Physicians may not be sure about their prognosis or diagnosis. There are possibilities of inadequate pain treatments and erroneous depression treatments. Therefore, it is obligatory on the State to provide protection to the citizens against such inevitable errors. (University of Washington School of Medicine, April 11, 2008)

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