Editor’s note: On Feb. 24, The Gazette published an opinion piece by L.D. Davidson, explaining his reasons for being opposed to physician-assisted suicide. Members of the Union College class “Moral Problems: Death & Dying” discussed the piece. This is one of three responses.
As students in a Union College class, “Moral Problems: Death & Dying,” we studied and debated the pros and cons of physician-assisted suicide, and we would like to write in support of most of L.D. Davdison’s arguments against legalizing it.
We would, however, like to correct Davidson’s claims regarding depression as a factor in influencing patients to choose physician-assisted suicide. He states that, “evidence from Oregon indicates that individuals are choosing doctor-assisted suicide because they are depressed, not because they are suffering intolerable pain.”
The three most frequent end-of-life concerns of Oregon residents are loss of self-sufficiency (93.4 percent), decreasing ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable (92.2 percent), and loss of dignity (77.9 percent).
These statistics suggest that Davidson is correct that intolerable pain is not an apparent influence, but there is no solid evidence revealing that patients who opt for physician-assisted suicide are depressed. The motivation behind the choice is, rather, the patient’s desire to gain control over how and when they die.
But should they have this control?
The ultimate choice
The answer is no
Investigating the difference between passive and active deaths and the value of human life can help to understand why our answer to that question is “no.”
An important point to consider about physician-assisted suicide is the difference between letting someone die and killing someone. A passive death is when patients forgo life-sustaining treatment, resulting in their death. Contrasting this is when a doctor actively participates or assists a patient in dying, more commonly known as killing.
Physician-assisted suicide, in concept and in Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act, involves doctors actively participating in killing their patients. The physician prescribes the lethal drug of the patient’s choice and prepares it for ingestion, but the patient administers the drug. It can be argued that the doctors aren’t killing the patient because they aren’t forcibly administering the drug, but one should consider the effect of the doctor’s sanction in this decision.
Doctor’s opinions are valued, so if a patient receives a prognosis of less than six months to live and the doctor endorses physician-assisted suicide, patients could be persuaded to end their life.
Code of ethics
The Code of Ethics of the American Medical Association states that, “physicians have an obligation to relieve pain and suffering and to promote the dignity and autonomy of dying patients in their care.” It is clearly stated that physicians have an ethical, moral and legal obligation to manage pain. The question is, do physicians have the obligation to uphold their patient’s dignity to the point where they help kill them?
A physician’s ultimate duty is to prevent death through curing the progression of illness, but they should also be well-trained in pain management, skilled in communication, and able to counsel their patients through difficult times. The modern Hippocratic Oath states that, “I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.”
Assisting a patient in committing suicide is a contradiction of doctors’ sworn oath and diminishes the integrity of the medical field.
Human life is something that should forever be valued as precious. In our society and traditions, we celebrate our lives each year on our birthdays and again at funerals, wakes and memorial services. Lives of loved ones lost are rightfully mourned; why should physician-assisted suicide be accepted since it’s demeaning the great value that is human life?
We believe the answer to that question is that life should not be taken for granted, or taken by physician-assisted suicide.
Suicide is an act of complete desperation, and is usually used when all other options are extinguished. Will taking your own life be a part of how people will remember you, and does it represent your strength as a human?
— Lisa Catrambone and Gavin Cumming