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Sociology: Right To Die Position Paper

969 words - 4 pages

Over the past decade, we have gone from Dr. Jack Kevorkian's first public assisted suicide to the first legal assisted suicide in Oregon. The underlying issue has been whether terminally ill individuals should have the right to ask a doctor to hasten their own deaths. However, larger issues have been raised as well; about dying with dignity and what constitutes a ''good death.''Dr. Kevorkian's actions are reflective of the Pre-Conventional stage of moral reasoning; he felt his action was good, despite respect to any kind of moral order.In the majority of cases, people die in hospitals where physicians and nurses make heroic efforts to keep patients alive until there is no reasonable chance for their recovery. Unfortunately, in the course of those valiant efforts, pain, suffering, and the wishes of patients and their families are often overlooked as physicians and staff struggle with medical, moral, legal, and economic matters. In most cases, medical professionals have significant discretion in deciding when additional efforts to sustain life are futile, and a patient should be allowed to die.This stage of moral reasoning is conducive to Law and Order; doing one's duty, upholding respect for authority and obeying rules.Physicians continue to face this ethical dilemma today. The American Medical Association said in one legal brief, ''For over 2,000 years, the predominant responsibility of the physician has not been to preserve life at all costs but to serve the patient's needs while respecting the patient's autonomy and dignity,'' Concurrently, the AMA opposes physician-assisted suicide. The Hippocratic oath still states: ''To please no one will I prescribe a deadly drug, or give advice which may cause his death.'' This moral reasoning of physicians is at the Conventional Level, in which the right behavior is living up to the expectations of family or nation, and conformity to personal expectations and social order.Court rulings have firmly established a patient's legal right to discontinue life-sustaining treatment, such as respirators or artificial nutrition. Although it is widely condoned around the world, only one nation, the Netherlands, has actually made physician-assisted suicide legal. In the United States, voters in five states initiated ballot measures to legalize physician-assisted suicide. Four of them failed: Washington in 1991, California in 1992, Michigan in 1998, and Maine in 2000. The exception is Oregon. In 1984 voters approved the ''Death with Dignity Act'' by a thin margin of 51 percent to 49 percent. The measure permits doctors to prescribe a lethal drug dose, but they are not allowed to administer it. It also established rules for ensuring patients seeking assisted suicide are mentally competent to do so, are in great pain, and are intent on ending their lives. It was eventually upheld by a federal appeals court, but opponents put the issue back on the ballot in 1997, where voters overwhelmingly supported the law. In the first...

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