Jan 12, 2018 in Medicine

Physician-Assisted Suicide

One of the most controversial issues in the today’s society is physician-assisted suicide. Sometimes physicians assist the terminally ill to end their life voluntarily. A lot of people are against the act of ending another person’s life voluntarily due to their health conditions. Indeed, it is inappropriate to assist a person to end his or her life; nonetheless, there are numerous people who also feel that assisting someone to end his/her life is the right of the sick person. Furthermore, there are numerous responsibilities that come along with a doctor being requested to help a patient to end life. Some of these responsibilities include being required to provide valid information regarding the terminal illness of the patient, struggling to make the decision of whether or not to assist the patient in death; moreover, in cases whereby they happen to make that crucial decision, another responsibility arises with the prescription of the lethal dose that will eventually end the life of the patient. For those who are in support of physician-assisted suicide argue that it is the right of the terminally ill patient to make the crucial decision of whether or not to be assisted to end his/her life. This is why they feel that it should be legalized to avoid patients to undergo the suffering and give burden to the parents and relatives as a result of the terminal illness. Conversely, those opposed to physician assisted suicide argue on the ground of Christian values and how unethical the act is. Those opposed strongly argue that if this act is legalized, it is likely to get out of hand and target certain individuals in the society. This paper presents both sides of arguments towards such a controversial issue.

Assisted suicide refers to an act of assisting another party in ending of ones life voluntarily. Doctor-assisted suicide unlike in euthanasia a doctor does not directly involve in ending the life of a patient but instead avails the means (drugs or information) of ending life to the patient.  In other words, doctors do not end the patient’s life in an assisted suicide. Doctor-assisted suicide has dominated the media for a long time owing to the diverse views deliberated by people across the country on ethical, legal and religious grounds thus making it one of the most controversial issues of the recent time (Byock, 2012). A number of countries have been battling with the challenge of pushing forward laws that legalize physician-assisted suicides. Doctors are indisputably a vital element in our society considering their daily operations, which revolves around saving lives and improving health.  However, the role of doctors in helping their patients especially terminally ill ones to commit suicide in cases supported by law has put them in a receiving end. 

Currently a number of countries, in particular Holland, Luxembourg, Belgium and a couple of states in the US especially Oregon and Washington while the state of Massachusetts faced with the responsibility of approving the controversial question of whether to approve "Death with Dignity" initiative or not.  This is a clear indication that the issue of physician-assisted suicide is such a vital issue that requires clear guidelines owing to high public interest in the debate.  Besides, parties who support physician-assisted suicide base their argument on the need to respect wishes of the patient and ones right to death and the need to alleviate excruciating pain/suffering. There are also two important principles in medical ethics that most supporters of physician suicide have often built their claims. The first one is the obligation of the physicians to relieve pain as well as suffering and most importantly improve the dignity of dying patient under their care. The second one is based on the principle of bodily integrity of the patient, which calls for the physicians to respect competent decisions from patients wishing to forego life support treatment.

Just like the wide support, that physician-assisted suicide has received from the public and so is the strong outrage from adversaries. On the other hand, opponents of physician have strong claims to justify their position.  However, these claims are derived from various background some legal, ethical, cultural and religious. For instance, individuals with strong religious beliefs may claim that only God has the right to give and take ones life; moreover, it is against Gods commandments to induce death either directly or indirectly.  Some divide also believes that it is morally unacceptable to play a role in ending another person’s life irrespective of whether it is voluntary or otherwise (Kopelman, L.,De Ville, K., & Society of Health and Human Values, 2001). It is noteworthy that the nature of the controversy that surrounds physician-assisted suicide is based on the role of doctors is promoting end of life to their patients. It is evident that majority of those opposing are concerned with the role played by the physician in helping patients wishing to take away their lives achieve their objective.

Families and friends of patients are highly concerned about their relatives and friends being assisted to commit suicide by their doctors considering that the welfare of the patient on whether he/she is intensely suffering or not is their biggest priority.  Other people on the other hand feel that a doctor is an important element in deciding whether to terminate life as they are charged with the responsibility of alleviating suffering, thus they must be involved either directly or indirectly in matters concerning their patients.  The major controversial content in physician-assisted suicide revolves around the role of the doctors in orchestrating the act. This means that by eliminating the role of the doctors, which is mainly, a supportive role will translate to total elimination of the controversial content and as such, the controversy will certainly take another course.  There is no doubt that another controversy is likely to arise if the patients end up committing suicide during palliative care without the knowledge and assistance of the physicians. In other words, if the doctors are not involved in assisting the patients to commit suicide then it means that this controversy will focus on the patients act but not the assistive role of the doctors.  For example, the public will question the role of the nurses in caring for the suffering patients in order to ensure that they live their last days happily. 

The issue of physician-assisted suicide has highly dominated the print and social media over the past few years. Notable messages that I have seen in the media especially in the social and print media are post on a debatable form. For instance, a print media did post this message about the controversy surrounding assisted suicide “Is assisted suicide an act of murder or mercy?” The entire mass media is not taking position on this controversy as most of the media houses not only print but also audio and visual as they seek to enlighten the public with the possible merits and demerits of physician-assisted suicide. However, the media is quite categorical about doctors who are engaging in illegal assisted suicide especially in states where there are no laws supporting assisted suicide, as this is the source of major controversies. Most sources that are partial about this issue of physician-assisted suicide are mostly those associated with special group in the society particularly sources related to religious and civil right groups.   For instance, a print media relating to a civil right activist contained the following message “Right to die is a saying. There exist no civil right to commit murder”.  This is a clear indication that the debate about assisted suicide is divided along distinctive lines and it is addressed along cultural, legal and religious lines. 

Media is indisputably one of the core pillars of democracy taking into considering it major source forms of information that can get to masses in the easiest and faster means (Alexander & Hanson, 2005). Media informs masses about systems, current issues, views and people and as such, it is accredited with spurring debates as it keeps updating people about new events. This role of media in updating people with trending events, and views is a clear justification that media plays a significant role in shaping public opinion. Additionally, media is also known for presenting diverse and prejudiced information and this is deliberate action of the media is likely to influence public opinion especially if the truth is not known about the controversial issue. However, in many instances, media often present a controversial subject in different perspectives and as such, they end up not influencing public opinion but instead they allow the public form their own opinion based on their informed judgements rather than from manipulated subjects.  

There is no doubt that technology especially Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has affected news and media in myriad ways. To begin with, technology has increased ease and speed of access to news and any related information from media houses.  For instance, technology has made it possible to receive news updates through short text messages (SMS). Additionally, the internet and its components such as websites, and social sites has widened the sources of news as individuals can access various websites and social sites belonging to various media houses and access real time events as well as incoming news.  Individuals can buy newspapers, magazines, journals, periodicals as well as other vital sources of news online. The internet has also made it possible to receive live radio and television broadcast irrespective of geographical background thus an increase in news penetration. The internet through E-marketing has created new avenues for advertisement an opportunity that never was the last few decades. Furthermore, new technologies of E-marketing have also helped in reducing the cost of advertisement considerably over the past few years a move that is good for business. The medium in which news has been relayed can have not resolve or exacerbate the controversy. This is because the public will always have different opinion informed by their personal judgement about the turn of events. In sum, doctor-assisted suicide remains controversial and complex due to the core values of each side of argument that are rooted in diverse areas.

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