Kimberly L. Klebine
University of Saint Frances
Physician Assisted Suicide has arguably been one of the most controversial subjects in the legal and medical system. Rapid and dramatic developments in medical technology have given the ability to save even more lives than ever possible. Medicine has put at the disposal the means to cure or to reduce the suffering of people afflicted with diseases that once were fatal or painful. At the same time, medical technology has given the power to sustain the lives or some would say prolong deaths of patients, whose physical and mental capabilities cannot be restored. Assisting death is a dilemma with many ethical as well as practical issues facing healthcare today. The call from the public for legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide in all states has never been stronger. There is a variety of arguments for and against the support of assisted death, which will be discussed in the paper. But this leads to one question that still needs to be answered. Is choosing PAS such an easy decision?
Keywords: assisted suicide, pas, euthanasia, and doctor-cared dying
Is Choosing PAS (Physician Assisted Suicide) an Easy Decision?
PAS sometimes called Physician Assisted death refers to voluntary ending of one’s life primarily by taking a lethal substance prescribed by a physician (Friend, 2011, p. 110). The history of physician assisted suicide can be traced back as far as ancient civilizations. It was upheld by these ancient civilizations that the citizens had the right to kill themselves. In fact physicians upon request often gave their patients poison. However, the Hippocratic School, which advocated never giving deadly drugs, gained considerable acceptance with the advent of Christianity by the fifteenth century. It was during this era that a major change in social values on life and death effectively put an end to the idea of suicide or assisted suicide being acceptable (Macleod, Wilson, & Malpas, 2012, p. 88).
Over the years the “right to die’ was brought to light by many philosophers and teachers and debated. David Hume, Francis Bacon, and Samuel Williams were just some of the noticeably few scholars who were proponents of the “right to die”. Francis Bacon was a seventeenth century philosopher who argued physician’s duties included ending pain even when the outcome was the patient’s passing David Hume, a eighteenth century philosopher also believed that people should be free to commit suicide if their lives became too burdensome (Friend, 2011, p. 110).
However, it was a speech delivered by a teacher named Samuel D. Williams during the 1870s that had physicians discussing if hastening their patients’ death was ethically correct. In 1906, Ohio became the first state where a campaign for the legalization of euthanasia occurred. The bill was rejected and the medical profession continued to have authority over their education and practice, silencing support for legalization of PAS (Friend, 2011, p. 111).
In 1973, and probably one of the biggest major breakthrough for the supporters of PAS, was when the Dutch government agreed to not prosecute physicians who followed specific instructions known as “rules of conduct”. The Dutch public opinion was strongly influenced by the writings of Dr. Jan Hendrik van den Berg. He argued that physicians should consider a patient’s quality of life as being equally important as their quantity of life when determining who should live. Van Den Berg believed the ending of a life should no longer be considered taboo and patients should be able to exercise their rights to determine how they die (Friend, 2011, p. 111).
In 1980, Derek Humphrey founded the Hemlock Society in the United States. He started his campaign in 1975 after helping his first wife, who suffered with painful cancer