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Physician-Assisted Suicide can be described as medical assistance that is provided to a patient to enable him or her to perform an action with the intension of taking his or her own life. A good example of physician-assisted suicide is a situation where the physician prescribes a certain medication to a patient that enables him or her to take his or her own life, through administering the provided drugs in a way that would result into death. In physician-assisted suicide method, the patient has to perform the action of taking his or her own life, while the physician provides assistance to the patient in this type of suicide. In physician-assisted suicide, the mode of death involves the direct action of the doctor himself (Battin & Rhodes, 1998). An example of such direct action can comprise of direct administration of various lethal injections which would eventually lead to death of the patient.
In order to differentiate between the physician-assisted suicides from euthanasia, one has to consider the last action those results to the patient’s death, so as to comprehend which one took place. As a matter of fact through this distinction, it is precise that physician-assisted suicide takes place in a situation where the individual who dies is the one who performs the final act (Mitchell, 2007). In the medical fraternity, this method has been applied in a situation whereby a patient cannot survive due to the severity of illness, and the patient choses to die. Therefore, physician-assisted suicide is mainly applied, since a person has the right to make choices on his life, especially in cases where the patient cannot survive from the illness. Many patients decide to use physician-assisted suicide method so as to ease the burden they subject their families and friends to. This is mainly in terms of paying hospital bills for him or her to be alive. Other patients prefer this method due to the hopelessness and depressions they experience as a result of the seriousness of the disease they suffer from, since they cannot be cured. This is because many of them do not see the need of being a burden to their families and friends, due to the deadly disease that they suffer. Therefore, they opt for Physician-Assisted Suicide to ease the burden they subject other people to, and it takes the assistance of physicians to accomplish that task, despite being an extremely tough decision for the physicians.
Although, physician-assisted suicide method is applied in some instances, it has consistently received the stiff oppositions from the opponents of this method who strongly object to the act of the doctors facilitating the death of patients by providing patients with resources that enable patients to take away their own life. Additionally, physician-assisted suicide contradicts with the laws of various nations, which deter any person from taking the away the life of any person.
Physician-assisted suicide cannot be regarded as a legal issue, but it certainly affects the medical fraternity in various circumstances. Since doctors are the most likely individuals to be involved in performing such suicides, their argument on their approaches seems to be relevant. Physician-Assisted Suicide does not only endanger the values of the society with regards to life, but it is also against the medical profession code of ethics and even medical professionals swear not to do any harm to any person. Therefore, if such doctors are permitted legally to assist patients to take their own life using poisonous doses, it would be a disadvantage to many people.
Although Physician-Assisted Suicide is opposed by many people in the society, some believe that a person who has no hope of recovering from illness or a person who is sure to die as a result of severe illness has the right to decide what he/she want with his or her life, so as to reduce the burden for other people.
Despite the fact that religion believes and the medical profession codes of ethics oppose Physician-Assisted Suicide, this method is still used in various hospitals. Some doctors assist seriously ill patients to take their own life with the aim of ending the burden they put on their families and friends, especially in case whereby they suffer from a disease that cannot be cured. However, this is an extraordinarily tough decision to make for physicians, bearing in mind that they swear to protect the life of all individuals regardless of their conditions. This paper puts more emphasis on autonomy and how it relates to the Physician-Assisted Suicide. Moreover, the paper provides more comprehensive information that differentiates autonomy from dignity, as far as Physician-Assisted Suicide is concerned.
Finally, the paper tries to reveal the ethical issues that arise as a result of Physician-Assisted Suicide with regards to the ethics of the medical fraternity. This is because legalization of Physician-Assisted Suicide as a Law in some countries is contrary to the code of ethics of the medical fraternity, bearing in mind that they swear to protect the lives of all patients impartially by offering them proper care and not poisoning any patient maliciously.
With regards to the medical profession code of ethics, there is a common conflict between the two vital principles; these principles include autonomy and dignity and are mainly derived from diverse worldviews. Autonomy deals with the materialistic or secular view of a man with regards to the struggle for existence. On the other hand, dignity mostly deals with the Christian or religious understanding of man based on the scriptures that state that God created man in His own image. Proponents of autonomy undoubtedly show some respect for dignity, while those who advocate dignity show some respect for autonomy (Steinbock & Arras, 2009).
However, there are contrasts in the approaches to ethics, and they equally bear serious consequences. The differences between autonomy and dignity are clear on the issue of physician-assisted suicide. As a matter of fact, Oregon enacted a Law that legalized physician-assisted suicide. Additionally, physician-assisted suicide was recently passed as Law in Washington (Urofsky, 2000). Moreover, physician-assisted suicide has become widely spread, especially in the European countries, since they believe that, if a person has no hope of surviving from a certain illness he/she has a right to decide whether to apply Physician-assisted suicide method. Most people in such countries believe that Physician-assisted suicide is the most appropriate, because it eases the burden that patient subjects his families or friends into. This is because he/she can be extremely large burden to the family and friends, while he/she will still die. However, the law enacted in such countries dictates that physician-assisted suicide can only take place, if the patient requested for it, but it should not happen out of malicious intent of the physicians.
On the other hand, advocates of physician-assisted suicide normally invoke the principle of autonomy as the basic justification for what they call medical cooperation in the act of suicide. In reality, people’s autonomy is usually constrained, given the nature of people. We are obviously constrained by various things; therefore, people should understand the autonomy with regards to those constraints. There are two types of autonomies in the medical profession ethics; these include positive and negative autonomy (Darr, 2011).
Negative autonomy can be described as the right of being left alone to do what one wishes to do. This right is to some extent very radical, and it is acceptable to all bioethicists in the medical fraternity. Additionally, the right of mature adults to reject medical care is generally acknowledged. This means that mature adults have the right to refuse the medical care, and they cannot be forced, because they possess the right of deciding upon their lives.
On the other hand, positive autonomy can be described as the patient's right to get a particular medical treatment. However, the acknowledgement of positive autonomy by all ethicists is sternly limited compared to the negative autonomy, which is supported by many bioethicists. For instance, if a person is suffering from a brain tumor, he/she has a right to an extremely limited variety of treatments.
The only options that prevail mainly include the treatments that are acceptable by professionals in the medical fraternity, as the most appropriate for the treatment of brain tumors. Under positive autonomy, some of the rights that a patient has comprise of the right to radiation therapy, right to brain surgery or right to chemotherapy. Nevertheless, he or she does not have any right to many other forms of medical treatments, for instance, antibiotic therapy, amputation, a heart transplant, liposuction among others. Compared to negative autonomy, positive autonomy is substantially constrained; it is limited by the judgments made by the by medical professionals as to what are the most appropriate and effective treatment.
In the process of identifying the most appropriate and effective treatment for the patients, medical professionals consider various assumptions. These include assumption that, benefits should outweigh risks, health is good, life is good, pain should be ameliorated, and patients’ dignity should be respected among others. However, respect for autonomy does not apply in the judgments made by the medical professionals with regards to the effectiveness or appropriateness of a medical treatment given to any patient.
Additionally, negative autonomy, which is the patient’s right to refuse treatment, is usually respected by all medical professionals, on the other hand, positive autonomy is always just an affirmation of choice among various treatments considered as more appropriate by the medical practitioners. Therefore, positive autonomy is usually considered as an exercise of the negative autonomy on restricted lists of options.
All patients only have the right to negative autonomy, which gives them the right to refuse or accept medications appropriate, and more effective to their own illness. The medical profession dictates what acts form appropriate medical treatments to the patients. Therefore, the allegation that physician-assisted suicide is an issue of patient autonomy can be regarded as mistaken and misleading. The matter of physician-assisted suicide is not related to the issue of autonomy; this is because all patients possess a right of choosing the most appropriate medical treatments for them.
Physician-assisted suicide has consistently acted as a turning point on whether or not killing is among the treatment methods. According to my perception, physician-assisted suicide cannot be regarded as a treatment method, because, if killing a patient is medical treatment, then people suffering from a disease for which medical practitioners decide that killing is an appropriate and effective remedy also have the right to choose it. If killing cannot be considered as medical treatment, therefore, patients cannot have the right of choosing it as the part of their own medical treatment.
The allegation that autonomy can be regarded as a vital factor in physician-assisted suicide is untrue and misleading. According to my perception, taking one’s own life intentionally can never be regarded as medical treatment. Additionally, the act of taking life of another is unethical. Although, some laws have been passed in support of physician-assisted suicide, it is unethical, since it is against the oath that medical practitioners take when they join the profession. All medical professionals swear to protect the life of all people, regardless of their health status. Therefore, the laws passed in favor of physician-assisted suicide have made it extremely difficult for some medical professionals to make such decisions, since it is against their code of ethics.
Solution to the Problem Using Virtue Ethics
Virtue ethics can be considered as one of the most appropriate classical theories to address the problem of physician-assisted suicide, especially the issue of autonomy. This is because the virtue ethics theory is involved in the action of deciding the actions that can be regarded as morally right. This implies that this theory is concerned with the ability to identify the right action and differentiate it from the wrong action. In other words, this theory plays a significant role in enabling different individuals to identify appropriate actions, which should be enhanced, and distinguish them from inappropriate actions, which individuals must avoid.
This theory involves the process of identifying “non-moral” goods; this comprise of those intrinsic values that people believe that it can make them happy. For instance, a certain action can result into happiness to an individual, but it is unethical; this is what is referred to as “non-moral “goods. Additionally, virtue ethics involves the process of identifying moral right; this comprise of properties of individuals that make them morally good like their motives or moral character. This theory implies that not all things that make people happy can be considered ethical, because something can result into happiness, but it is unethical.
In relation to the issue of autonomy in physician-assisted suicide, virtue ethics can play a highly critical role because it guides the medical professionals on the actions they are expected to perform or tasks they are expected to perform with respect to the medical professional ethics. This implies that this theory guide medical practitioners to perform actions that are ethical, and always avoid issues that are against the code of ethics of the medical fraternity. For instance, as a result of this theory, medical professionals know that they are expected to protect the lives of each and every patient, regardless of his or her health situation. They are also not supposed to introduce lethal medication on any patient with the aim of assisting him or her to die. Therefore, although some states have legalized physician-assisted suicide as law, it goes against the code of ethics of the medical profession. This issue can result into more harm than benefits, if it is not addressed cautiously. This is because the lives of the patient may be in danger, because some doctors can give them lethal medication with malicious intent, for them to die and then claim that it was the wish of the patient to use the physician-assisted suicide method.
Virtue ethics theory enables the physicians to realize actions that are ethical, regardless of whether they result to happiness or not. For instance, although the issue of physician-assisted suicide is legalized by some states, physicians are able to recognize the physician-assisted suicide as unethical action, with regards to the virtue ethics. Despite the fact that physician-assisted suicide reduces the burden subjected to the families and friends of the patient, physicians believe that is unethical to take the life of any patient with respect to the virtue ethics theory which is used for making code of ethics of the medical profession.
The principle of ethical egoism can play an extremely vital role in solving the problems associated with the issue of physician-assisted suicide. This is because this principle deals with the process of identifying what is right for oneself. This principle dictates that when making any decision, a person must consider the consequences that his or her actions will have on him or her. Then, the decision-maker considers even the consequences alternative action he/she take. This means that the actions with the least adverse consequences or most good consequences are the right action for him or her to perform.
This principle plays an extremely vital role in solving the issue of physician-assisted suicide, particularly the issue of autonomy. This is because physicians are able to identify and consider the consequence of their actions. Therefore, this principle enables the physicians to take more caution when dealing with the issue of autonomy in physician-assisted suicide due to the dire consequences that may arise because of their actions.
In conclusion, according to my own perception, physician-assisted suicide is not related to autonomy whatsoever. This is because autonomy is the patient's right to refuse medical treatment, but not the patient’s right to a non-medical act carried out by a doctor. The proponents of physician-assisted suicide apply the term autonomy as a diversion from the actual ethical issue. If this issue is understood precisely by medical practitioners and the general public, it can terminate the physician-assisted suicide, since it is an unethical practice with regards to the medical profession ethics.