Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide, and Patient Rights

All persons are entitled to a dignified death, but directly killing patients (euthanasia) or assisting in their suicide is an affront to human dignity, regardless of poor quality of life, pain, or survival expectancy.

What is euthanasia?

Euthanasia is the direct killing of a person, usually by injecting a lethal substance and is currently legal in several places including:

Fortunately, euthanasia is specifically prohibited in Louisiana and throughout the entire United States.  Louisiana Right to Life’s Center for Medical Ethics helped codify into law the Louisiana’s Natural Death Act for consenting or denying medical treatment which now specifically reads: “Nothing in this Part shall be construed to condone, authorize, or approve mercy killing or euthanasia or to permit any affirmative or deliberate act or omission to end life other than to permit the natural process of dying” (RS 40:1299.58.10).

Arguments in favor of Euthanasia include:

Arguments against Euthanasia include:

Is physician-assisted suicide the same as euthanasia?

No. Physician-assisted suicide refers to the physician providing the means for death, most often with a prescription. The patient, not the physician, will ultimately administer the lethal medication. Euthanasia generally means that the physician would act directly, for instance by giving a lethal injection, to end the patient’s life.

Some other practices that should be distinguished from euthanasia and physician assisted suicide are:

What is assisted suicide?

Assisted suicide involves one person providing the means and instructions to help another person commit suicide.  Most states have laws that prohibit assisted suicide yet attempts to legalize assisted suicide with ballot measures continue to challenge existing laws.

Where is Assisted Suicide legal? 
Assisted suicide is legal in Oregon and Washington State as well as in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. It is not legal but widely practiced in Switzerland and attracts people from all over the world to be assisted with suicide.  It is a widely known fact that illegal drugs from Mexico are taken to Australia and New Zealand to be used for suicide.

What do people want to legalize Assisted Suicide? 
Wherever an assisted-suicide measure is proposed, proponents’ arguments and strategies are similar.  Invariably resting on the two pillars of autonomy (independence and the right of self-determination) and the elimination of suffering:

  1. Autonomy (independence and the right of self-determination) is certainly valued in modern society and patients do, and should, have the right to accept or reject medical treatment. However, those who favor assisted suicide claim that autonomy extends to the right of a patient to decide when, where, how and why to die.
  2. The second pillar of assisted-suicide advocacy is elimination of suffering. During each and every attempt to permit euthanasia and assisted suicide, its advocates stress that ending suffering justifies legalization of the practices. However, suicide is not pain relief. Palliative care – the medical science of relieving pain – has advanced a great deal, and most pain can be controlled with proper treatment. In extreme cases, palliative sedation – putting someone in an unconscious or semi-conscious state to relieve pain – can ease suffering until the moment of death.

In the United States Oregon’s Death with Dignity plan is often used as the model for legislative advances of Physician Assisted Suicide. Additionally, records from Oregon show that few people who have sought “death with dignity” under that state’s program have ranked pain as a primary reason for their request. Most people cited concern over isolation, and loss of function and autonomy as the chief reasons for wanting to die.

Even though Death with Dignity, which is code for Assisted Suicide, sounds like a good choice for some, the real world of assisted suicide is one:

 

Should someone have the right to end one’s own life?

Suicide, as a solitary act, is not illegal in any state. However, assisting someone in taking one’s own life is a different conversation.  The legitimate concerns are focused on the systemic implications of adding assisted suicide to the list of “medical treatment options” available to seriously ill and disabled people.  Assisted suicide is unnecessary because current law gives every person the right to refuse lifesaving treatment, and to have adequate pain relief.

It is understandable, though tragic, that some patients in extreme agony—such as those suffering from a terminal, painful, debilitating illness—may come to decide that death is preferable to life.  However, permitting physicians or caregivers to engage in euthanasia would ultimately cause more harm than good.  Euthanasia and assisted suicide are fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s roles as healer and would be difficult or impossible to control.

Almost all of those who attempt suicide do so as a subconscious cry for help.  A suicide attempt powerfully calls attention to one’s plight. This is no different for those who have terminal illnesses or whose life appears to have no value.  The ethical response is to mobilize resources to address the issues of pain and suffering. Typically, counseling and assistance with a view of the dignity of the person at this stage of life are successful. In short, suicidal people should be helped with their problems, not helped to die. Society has already determined that preventing suicide is a public health priority. Programs of awareness and intervention receive public funds, and the public is encouraged to help troubled individuals to avoid suicide. In reality, many people who attempt suicide are actually looking for help to improve their quality of life. This is born out by the fact that only 17% of suicide attempts are successful. “People seek to control their death, because public policies make it difficult to control their life. They want a loving family to gather around them as they die, because they do not have loved ones to support and help them live.”

 

Should people be forced to stay alive if they desire not to live?

The duty to preserve life does not involve an obligation to prolong the dying process by technological measures.  A competent patient is entitled to decline extraordinary therapeutic measures whose burdens exceed their benefits.

In addition, an Assisted Suicide Law is a bad law:

Recently residents of Massachusetts dealt a significant setback to the Death with Dignity agenda by defeating a ballot measure to legalize Physician Assisted Suicide.  This accomplishment was very encouraging in a uniquely challenging campaign and political climate.  To learn more about the Massachusetts victory click here.

Also, below is a list of several commercials that were aired in Massachusetts and were essential to defeating the Assisted Suicide agenda:

Additional Resources concerning Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia: