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Physician Assisted Suicide: An Ethical Dilemma

1939 words - 8 pages

Ethical decisions are being made by terminally ill patients as they face death. Some are choosing to end life through PAS, physician-assisted suicide. Dr. Jack Kevorkian has been helping patients end life through his machines. The public opinion is the use of this machine is considered murder, but some have changed their thinking and created laws to make it legal for a physician to help a terminally ill patient die. Physician assisted suicide is a dignified way to end life.
Dr. Kevorkian, a pathologist, born in 1928, was known for his campaign for the terminally ill and their rights for assisted suicide. He built a machine from household parts, which included tools, toy parts, and other items easily found around the house or at the local hardware store. This machine was named Thanatron, a Greek word meaning death machine. He designed it with the patient’s comfort in mind. They would be able to use this machine in their own home. The total cost of the machine was $45.00. (Gibbs, McBride-Mellinger, 69; PBS.org, web).
This machine used an intravenous drip which was hooked up to the patient. The IV would start dripping a solution of saline. When the patient was ready they pushed a button and this solution would stop dripping. At this time the machine would release a drug called thiopental, better known as sodium pentothal, a general anesthesia for sixty seconds. After this the patient would be in a coma. A timer would stop the first drug and the release the next one called potassium chloride. This drug will cause a heart attack and the patient will die in their sleep. (Gibbs, McBride-Mellinger; PBS.org.
Once Dr. Kevorkian could no longer obtain the needed drugs for using this machine he started using a machine called the Mercitron or mercy machine. He assembled this in the back of his Volkswagen van, and it included carbon monoxide tanks fitted with a mask. This mask would be placed over the patient’s nose and mouth. Dr. Kevorkian attached a handle so all his patients, no matter their disability, could pull the lever to initiate the gas to start. The drawback of using the carbon monoxide was it took longer for the patient to die. The patients were persuaded to take a drug which would relax them before they began using the Mercitron, because as a doctor he didn’t want them to experience pain. (Jackson).
The use of this machine brought about an ethical dilemma. Is it ethical for terminally ill patients to end their own lives with the assistance of their doctor? Many patients when faced with this decision do not wish to go through the suffering or loss of abilities for doing every day activities. They want to die before they become incapacitated and can die with dignity (Andre & Velasquez). The term euthanasia meaning mercy killing differs from physician assisted suicide because someone other than the patient administers the lethal dose or performs another act that causes death. In each of these situations it considered homicide (Marker)....

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