Rebekah Honeycutt

Light and Love be with you!

Essay: Terminally Ill, Physician Assisted Suicide, and Ethical Responses

After being diagnosed with a serious terminal illness, would a person choose life or death?  This is the ethical question that has become an incredibly controversial discussion; many philosophical debates on this issue have ensued.  To understand the topic more accurately and to make an educated decision, a person needs to know the difference between Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) and Euthanasia. PAS can be defined as the conscious choice of a human to take a lethal medication prescribed by a physician.  PAS has been confused with Euthanasia which is distinctly different due to the physician actually delivering the medication to the patient, usually by injection.  By analyzing three distinct philosophical theories, an individual will have more knowledge basis on the topic of PAS so he or she can construct an ethical personal decision. Making an informed decision is important because it is the natural right of every human to choose between life and death.

 

Perspective- Utilitarian Ethics

The Utilitarian view point is seen as whatever creates the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people is the moral thing to do.  When placing the subject of PAS into the Utilitarian perspective the authors of The Elements of Moral Philosophy determine “…laws against euthanasia are not only contrary to the general welfare, they are also unjustified restrictions on the people’s ability to control their own lives” (Rachels & Rachels, 2003).  This indicates that when balancing between happiness and unhappiness of a terminally ill patient, it is ultimately the decision of the individuals involved.  Consequently, another article, Voluntary Euthanasia: A Utilitarian Perspective, Peter Singer evaluates Utilitarian arguments and concludes, “… on utilitarian grounds, the legalisation(sic) of voluntary euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide would be a desirable reform” (Singer, 2003).  By producing a greater amount of good for the greatest amount of people, reducing pain and suffering of not only the terminally ill patient but also their family members, the individual who chooses to utilize PAS has the support of Utilitarians.  The support is given on the grounds that it is the natural right of an individual to choose between life and death.

 

Perspective- Kantain Ethics

Kantian Ethics was made by German philosopher, Immanual Kant.  He observed that individuals should handle morality by using The Categorical Imperative which states “Act only on that maxim whereby thou canst at the same time will that it should become a universal law” (Kant, n.d.).   Meaning, if what you are deciding cannot be used for everyone planet-wide, then it should not be done.  He delves further into his theories by stating:

Firstly, under the head of necessary duty to oneself: He who contemplates suicide should ask himself whether his action can be consistent with the idea of humanity as an end in itself. If he destroys himself in order to escape painful circumstance, he uses a person merely as a mean to maintain a tolerable condition up to the end of life. But a man is not a thing, that is to say, something which can be used merely as a means, but must in all his actions be always considered as an end in himself. I cannot, therefore, dispose in anyway of a man in my own person so as to mutilate him, to damage or kill him. (Kant, n.d.)

Basically, what Kant is declaring is he cannot think of a reason that suicide should be committed and enacted as a universal law.  Generally, he has argued against PAS because killing oneself would not be morally correct.  On the other hand, if the individual has decided that continuing a life without dignity is morally wrong, then Kant would apparently be a supporter of such a decision.  Thus, he is ultimately a supporter that individual decisions are the natural right of each person even when choosing between life and death.

 

Perspective- The Ethics of Care

Uniquely, Ethics of Care is a more feminine approach to morality.  It incorporates personal aspects of life such as family and friends and how people ought to interact within relationships.  Unlike other man-made theories, Care Ethics point out that a human being is essentially dependent on others and that each person goes through stages of dependency according to his or her age, or physical or mental conditions (Ethics of Care, 2008).  Taking this into consideration, many medical facilities and services have incorporated the use of Care Ethics.  Hospice centers create a peaceful, dignified, and comfortable experience for a person that has accepted that death is approaching (Unknown, 2010).  By hospice centers providing these options, PAS does enter the conversation as an ethical option.  Ethics of care is more of an interdependent decision where a family and the medical providers discuss the best options for those persons involved.  This theory is most applicable to the discussion topic of PAS for this reason.  While determining if PAS is the right decision for the family, Ethics of Care truly supports the individuals’ natural right to choose between life and death.

 

In the movie, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures, character Ted speaks with the Greek philosopher Socrates stating, “All we are is dust in the wind, Dude” (Herek, 1989).  Of course the movie serves no reference to the philosophical thoughts of Socrates himself, but this statement shows the perception of some individuals that life is short lived and has no meaning after we are released from it.  This is one of many religious viewpoints that assist individuals in finding a personal belief.  Now, to truly quote Socrates, “Not life, but good life, is to be chiefly valued”(Socrates, n.d.). This quotation pertains specifically to the topic of PAS and the terminally ill patient.  If the patients’ quality of life is sustained and the patient is happy with their life at this point, then it would seem continuing to live would be the best option. Conversely, human beings should not have to continue through a life of pain, agony, depression, and unsuccessful treatments. Through the three ethical theories mentioned in this document it can be concluded that individuals have an option to live life to the degree that they choose. Life is a choice; and as such, death is a choice.


 

Citations:

Ethics of care. (2008, October 6). New World Encyclopedia. Retrieved March 2, 2012, from http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Ethics_of_care?oldid=823058.

 

Herek, S. (Director) (1989). Bill and ted’s excellent adventure [DVD].

 

Kant, I. (n.d.). Groundwork for the metaphysics of morals . Translation by Abbott, T. Retrieved March 3,2012,from http://www.categoricalimperative.org/

 

Rachels, J., & Rachels, S. (2003). The elements of moral philosophy. (6 ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

 

Singer, P. (2003). Voluntary euthanasia: A utilitarian perspective. (Vol. 17, pp. numbers 5-6). Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

 

Socrates. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved March 1, 2012, from http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/s/socrates101067.html

 

Unknown. (2010). Hospice ethics institute explores end-of-life issues. Retrieved March 2, 2012, from http://www.scu.edu/ethics/publications/iie/v10n1/hospice.html

 

 

 

My personal thoughts and why I chose this subject.

I chose this topic due to working in the medical field and seeing first-hand the troubles and tribulations that terminally ill patients and their families must work through.  I am in a position as an Emergency Medical Technician- Paramedic to see things that others do not have the ability to.  As a patient advocate, it is my job description to fight in any way possible for my patient’s wishes. I have listened as many individuals proclaimed they were ready to move on from this life, but their family members and doctor wouldn’t allow it to happen. I have also listened to the opposite. It is within my ethical contract to assist my patients through difficult times and try to create the best possible outcome for all involved. I have watched people’s lives escape them whether they were ready to go or not. Why should a person have to endure pain and suffering that could be remedied by administration of a medicine if they so choose? I believe life and death are a natural choice that should be made by the individual and not become a negative mark on their name in society.  After researching I have found that the most applicable theory is the Ethics of Care as it pertains to PAS due to caring for others on a personal level.

-Rebekah Honeycutt

 

The main arguments for and against the topic of Physician Assisted Suicide are as follows:

Supporting:

  • Protect people from inadequate care, suffering needlessly
  • Individual choice should not be limited by laws
  • Financial/emotionally draining caring for terminally ill persons
  • Dependency on others
  • Allowing a more enjoyable life by reducing anxiety of death

Against:

  • Creation of pressure to commit suicide
  • Hasten death for very old, very poor, or minorities
  • Need for a genuine choice besides suicide
  • Having to justify a choice to stay alive
  • Difficulty implementing (Lynn & Harold, 1999)

Citation:

Lynn, J., & Harold, J. (1999). Handbook for mortals. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.


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