The practice of assisted suicide is not a modern phenomenon. In ancient Greece, the government gave hemlock to those who wanted it. William Shakespeare memorialized the Roman practice in Julius Caesar by depicting Brutus running into the sword held by Strato (Egendorf). While physician assisted suicide is not a new concept the moral debate surrounding euthanasia in America has certainly been brought to the forefront in the last thirty years with the advancements of modern medicine. The direct effects of such a rapid increase in medical science is the prolonging of a human's life span. However, some may wonder if living to be 80 or 90 years old is a blessing or a curse?
The following statistics highlight the possibility of serious health issues faced by senior citizens: possible health issues Most older persons have at least one chronic condition and many have multiple conditions. In 2006-2008, the most frequently occurring conditions among older persons were: hypertension (38%), diagnosed arthritis (50%), all types of heart disease (32%), any cancer (22%), diabetes (18%), and sinusitis (14%) (Unknown). In summary, the longer people live the more likely they are to develop an incurable health condition, some of which are painful and/or could eventually lead to death. Generally, most individuals would probably not wish themselves or loved ones to have a slow, painful end to their life. Nevertheless, some American's may want a fast exit into the “great beyond”, others may see a doctor aided death as a legal and moral dilemma.
While, physician assisted suicide in the United States is legal only in Montana, Oregon, and Washington state; the lawful bypass in the remaining states is passive euthanasia. Passive euthanasia, is the intentional withholding of life saving drugs, treatments or devices, resulting in death of the afflicted. For example, “pulling the plug” on a beloved’s life support machine. This form of mercy killing was made legal by the Supreme Court in 1976, the court's judgment granted patients or their guardian (should they not be able to make the decision on their own) the right to refuse any medical treatment. There is seldom contention over a person's right to forgo medical care, even if the result is death.
However, the gray area appears to be physician assisted suicide which occurs when a doctor assists a patient with killing themselves. Many, in and out of the medical field feel this practice directly contradicts the Hippocratic Oath, which says : Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God (Tyson). This pledge clearly states that a medical practitioner “must not play at God”, many feel this statement means that a doctor does not have the right to help a person end their life....