The Debate Surrounding Physician Assisted Suicide Essay

1650 words - 7 pages

Physician-assisted suicide is the practice in which a doctor prescribes a terminally ill patient with a lethal medication as a form of active, voluntary euthanasia. These patients, rather than suffer slowly and painfully, often request this procedure as a means of experiencing a more “dignified” death. The debate surrounding this issue is a heated one, especially among the general public whose attitudes are deeply influenced by the level of patient pain and discomfort (Frileux et al. 334). At the heart of the issue is the conflict between a patient’s right to choose between life and death and, as expressed by one social scientist, “society’s obligation to protect its most vulnerable members from hastened and not completely voluntary death” (Ardelt 424). The healthcare field acknowledges the role of medical technology, which has extended the lifetime of many patients through life support therapies like feeding tubes and dialysis, in creating a lower quality of life characterized by an agonizingly prolonged and costly dying (Martin 54). This phenomenon has made physician-assisted suicide a highly relevant and compelling issue today. But, while some defend physician-assisted suicide as a form of medical autonomy for the terminally ill, others contend that such voluntary euthanasia is too extreme a solution for most situations and improvement in patient and palliative care is a more acceptable option and would help maintain the patient-doctor relationship. The purpose of this literature review is to present these scholarly perspectives in an attempt to provide a relatively expansive overview of the attitudes relating to physician-assisted suicide in the medical community, with an eye to how they compare with public opinion.
In “Euthanasia- a physician’s viewpoint,” Dr. Robert Twycross argues against physician-assisted suicide by discussing the importance of palliative care, which is centered around treating and reducing patient pain and suffering. Assisted suicide is criticized as a drastic answer to “a situation that demands a far more comprehensive and compassionate approach” (86). Focusing on patients with advanced cancer, Twycross notes that it is crucial to humanize the experience of the dying so that their emotional, physical, and spiritual needs are met. For example, more than sixty percent of patients with Stage IV cancer experience severe, overlooked pain (89). The establishment of several hospices and care units as a response to the gaps left by medical technology has significantly improved the standard of care received by terminally ill patients. These care facilities work on symptom control by carefully evaluating the cause of pain and adopting a multidisciplinary approach that incorporates both regular analgesic use and non-drug measures like creating a positive, comfortable environment (89). Twycross concludes that it is not a change in the legal status of euthanasia that is needed, but rather a change in medical education to teach...

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