Physician-assisted suicide should be legalized

September 14, 2009 — by Tiffany Tung

Since Montana became the third state that ruled doctor-assisted suicide legal in the United States, the media has been all over the topic—is it ethical to legalize physician-assisted suicide (PAS)?

Physician-assisted suicide often occurs when a terminally ill patient requests the doctor to provide a lethal dose of a medication, which the patient later takes to commit suicide. Because the physician himself is indirectly involved with the suicide, this is not euthanasia and therefore cannot be considered a “mercy killing.”

Since the option of physician-assisted suicide was offered in Washington six months ago, 11 have already taken advantage of the PAS option. In the court case that legalized PAS, Compassion in Dying v. State of Washington, Washington justified the option, arguing that individuals have the right to choose how and when they die.

Advocates of PAS argue that people have the right to end their lives with dignity. If someone has a terminal illness and is in a sound state of mind, that person should be able to choose whether or not he wants to prolong his suffering. Dissenters however, say that legalizing PAS would go against the standard morals of doctors; after all, the ancient Hippocratic Oath bids medics to “do no harm.” Furthermore, they believe that terminally ill patients could be pressured into choosing this option by family members who are unable or unwilling to cover the hefty cost of hospital care.

The problem that lies with this argument is that there is no right or wrong answer. It’s a matter of one’s own opinion. If a patient requests to have a physician-assisted suicide, the doctor must share the same sentiments regarding PAS as the patient does. Oftentimes, doctors suggest palliative care as an alternative, allowing the patient to live out the rest of his days painlessly.

Though the act of committing suicide is not accepted in society, but PAS should be an exception. If patients are suffering from a terminal illness and are also coherent, it’s better for them to live their lives in peacefulness rather than in constant pain. Apparently the 11 who used PAS in Washington thought that it was the solution to their problems.

PAS should be legalized, because the decision is one for the patient to make, not the state. The state can set restrictions, but in the end, the patient is the one who should decide how to end his or her life.