The “right to die” argument is building moral, ethical and legal issues. The proponents for physician aid in dying are arguing from the perspective of compassion and radical individual autonomy. However, we cannot take the life of another human being in our hands and play the role of God. The case against physician-assisted suicide, which is essentially a moral case (“thou shall not kill; thou shall not help others to kill themselves”), is straightforward and clear. Proponents of physician-assisted suicide clearly want to relieve suffering, and show mercy. What could be wrong with that?
What is wrong is that accomplishing this good entails violating not only the fourth commandment, “You shall not kill”, but also the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods. ” For in assisting in a suicide we are indeed assuming the role of God, taking life and death in our hands, forgetting that we are the creatures and that God is God. A person does not own his life, for he did not create it. We are the creatures of God and we must respect and secure the gift that He gave us, the gift of life. Most people agree that to cause one’s death directly is objectively wrong.
They also recognize that people who commit suicide are usually not fully responsible because depression or intractable pain has overwhelmed them. Most of them also agree that physician-assisted suicide must be stopped. In a survey conducted at the University of Arizona in March 1999, 85% of 500 students supported that by legalizing physician-assisted deaths, society runs the risk of sliding into a practice of both true involuntary euthanasia and exerting subtle pressures on vulnerable and disenfranchised patients to opt for an assisted death.
Opponents also argue that the potential for abuse (i. e. involuntary euthanasia) is significantly higher in a permissive milieu where euthanasia is legal than in one where it is not. Additionally, several of them mentioned that the involvement of physicians in assisted dying might adversely affect the healing ethos of the medical profession, resulting in further erosion of the public trust in doctors. The remaining 15% supported that patients’ rights of autonomy should also include access to physician aid in dying. The option of an assisted death, proponents believe, would allow terminally ill patients to preserve their autonomy and exert one final element of control over their lives.
But to assist these suicides is evil. “Assisted suicide is not an act of caring, it is an act of killing,” says Dr. Michael H. Levy, M. D. , Ph. D. , director of Supportive Oncology and chairman of the Medical Ethics Committee at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, when interviewed by Gabrielle Saveri, corespondent of the “People” Magazine. “If all patients had access to skilled pain management, along with psychological and spiritual support, we wouldn’t need to resort to such desperate measures,” he adds.
However, the effect of watching, or hearing about, needless pain and suffering at the end of life clearly has a powerful appeal to the people. And for many the core belief that life is a gift of God has been replaced by the notion that life is an accident of nature. With such scenarios in mind, people drive the movement for physician-assisted suicide. People who have watched parents, spouses, friends, even children dying painfully, or who fear a painful end for themselves, may become ready supporters of proposals that would allow physicians to legally prescribe lethal doses of drugs with which dying persons kill themselves.
It seems simple enough to execute. Furthermore, it plays into a “well-honed” instinct – to be able to choose for oneself. But things are not so simple, and the “right to die” does not certainly provide us a “well-honed” instinct. Physician-assisted suicide advocates argue that they protect patient autonomy and non-coercion. These same flawed arguments legalized abortion and they are now used to support physician-assisted suicide. David P. Gushee, director of the Center for Christian Leadership at Union University, notes in an article titled “Lies we’ve heard before.. ”:
Interestingly enough so were advocates of abortion; indeed, autonomy, non-coercion, and self-determination are the watchwords of the pro- choice movement. But such autonomy for women facing crisis pregnancies has turned out to be quite elusive. Many women end up at abortion clinics due to pressure from their fathers, husbands, boyfriends, and sexual partners. Just so, we can fully expect that patient autonomy in the area of assisted- suicide will erode under psychological, financial, and social pressures. ” (“Lies we’ve heard before…” 2) The writer of the same article completes:
Likewise, advocates of full legalization of abortion assumed that the option of abortion would be selected by a small number of women under specialized circumstances. Abortion would be ‘safe, legal, and rare. ’ This assumption parallels that of PAS advocates who intend to restrict that procedure to ‘last six months of life’ for certifiably terminally ill patients. However, it is fully to be expected that just as abortion came to be the first rather than last resort for so many, so will PAS grow into a widely used procedure. ” (“Lies we’ve heard before…” 2) And this is a fact.
Abortion came to be the first resort for many women. As Robert Marquand notes in his article published in “Washington”: “A California law signed in 1968 increased the number of abortions in that state from 5,000 in 1968 to 116,000 in 1971. ” (Robert Marquand 2) P. A. S. candidates are likely to be not clear-headed people, but rather persons suffering from depression. The overriding reason for pursuing P. A. S. seems to be the fear of being a burden to others. In the Washington survey, 75 percent of terminally ill patients cited concern about being a burden as grounds for P. A. S. Distress and dependency are the primary concerns of P. A. S. candidates.
The more likely case is that of a woman who, if she fears pain, fears it because her health care system does not properly manage it; she opts for P. A. S. because she does not want to burden her family. An example, which is given by Dr. Michael Levy in his interview, is very representative of this attitude. One of his patients who asked his help in killing herself did so because she did not want her daughters to have to clean, feed, and diaper her as she had when they were young.
After Dr. Michael arranged a family discussion, which allowed to her daughters to say, “Mom, we want to give that back to you”, the ill mother realized that she was not a burden, and she was able to go on. Another argument of the proponents of PAS is the painless end of life that a physician can provide to his terminated ill patient. But is this management of pain provided in reality? Time magazine noted, “Look behind today’s headlines about physician-assisted suicide and the right to die, and you’ll find that what people are really talking about is the management of pain.
Or rather, the mismanagement of pain. ” Pain relief is available, but is it provided? A recent study of 4,000 patients who died after hospital interventions showed that 40 percent were in severe pain most of the time. Moreover, statistics from the Netherlands, where physician-assisted suicide is legal, indicate 25 percent of people who attempt to kill themselves by swallowing the required dose of pills do not quickly die, but linger, sometimes, for weeks. Therefore, it is deceptive to argue that a patient would pursue P. A. S. because of the lack of pain relief.
However, the extremity of pain can be controlled medically, and terminally ill patients can function in comfort until their last days without the need of assisted-suicide. In an April 9 letter to The New York Times, Nicholas A. Pace, M. D. , a member of the New York University Medical School faculty, wrote: “The public should know that knowledge does exist to allow the terminally ill patient to die comfortably, unassisted and: with dignity. This can be witnessed in every well-managed hospice. ” (“Dr. Kevorkian’s side scores” 2).
Another misleading aspect of the proponents is that candidates will not enjoy the degree of personal freedom if they do not have the right to die. But how far this kind of freedom can go? “ The effect of maximizing freedom (to die)… may be to make it more difficult for the sick – the dependent, those whose lives seem out of control – to refuse the question of death, harder to justify their existence,” argues Allen Verhey, professor of religion, in an issue of Christian Century magazine. Proponents also claim that P. A. S. is a matter of last resort.
That claim is fictive. Certainly, while P. A. S. is illegal, few consider recourse to it until all other options are tried. If it were made legal, however, why would a patient be constrained to consider it only as a last option? Mr. Callahan warns that legalizing assisted suicide would be profoundly immoral: “It would harm the individual by predicating his dignity and final self-determination on the right to be killed by another. It would harm the community by introducing consenting adult killing as a means of relieving suffering. ” (Ann Scott 2)
The “right to die” movement must be stopped. Human life is a gift from God and is sacred. People must not have the “freedom” to be killed. We are not talking about autonomy or rights here, but about social failure. It is expected that just as abortion came to be the first rather than last resort for so many, so will PAS grow into a widely used procedure. The assisted-suicide controversy will determine the kind of society we live in, and the one we will leave to our children. We must stop this movement before it is too late for our sake and for our children’s sake…