Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide

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Although death is an inevitable part of life, it is not easy for the world to view death in that manner. Most people dread aging since death inevitably follows, sooner or later. At the light of this topic of death is the issue of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. The debate over laws regarding the above has, for a long time, been a divisive public controversy owing to the myriad of legal and ethical issues regarding these topics. Euthanasia refers to a deliberate intervention that is undertaken with the aim of ending the life of a dying or incurably sick person to relieve them of their suffering (Boudreau and Somerville 2; Hudson et al. 1399).

Different Types of Euthanasia

The US law makes a clear distinction between two broad procedural types of euthanasia. One group of actions entails withholding or withdrawing of life-sustaining treatments with the intention of causing death or passive euthanasia (Hudson et al. 1399). Active euthanasia, also referred to as assisted suicide, assisted dying, among other terms used in varying jurisdictions is where one deliberately intervenes to end another person's life (Hudson et al. 1399). Battin noted that physician-assisted suicide is often interrelated with active euthanasia seeing to it that a physician provides a means for a patient to end their own life by for instance administering a lethal injection to a patient to hasten death (64). Although these terms are not used consistently among varying jurisdictions, Boudreau and Somerville noted that active euthanasia is generally more controversial compared to passive euthanasia (3). Active euthanasia is deemed illegal throughout the US and is associated with punitive measures on any acts of commission as a means of achieving deterrence towards the action. Physician-assisted suicide is however currently mandated by law in seven US states and the District of Columbia (Hudson et al. 1401). Medical decisions concerning these end of life decisions continue to elicit difficult questions and ethical dilemmas among patients, their families, physicians, policymakers and so on.

Right to Life and Legal Interests

Everyone has the fundamental human right of the right to life. This right to life is protected by the law which perhaps makes the preservation of being one of the most critical state interests. The US laws against active euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are thus often aimed at upholding the law's legitimate interests in protecting this right besides tackling the chances of abuse of one's 'right' to assisted death (Hudson et al. 1401). Due to the differing opinions towards these laws, euthanasia has continued being a topic of debate in the US since the 1800s when the first anti-euthanasia law was passed in New York (Hudson et al. 1403). Hudson et al. noted that the advocacy for a right to die has, over the years, sparked even greater interest in euthanasia which culminated in the 1990's US Supreme Court approval for the use of passive euthanasia. Years later, some states as noted above established state laws allowing for assisted dying although assisted death is still widely controversial.

Arguments for Abolishing Assisted Death Laws

Despite the good intentions of the laws prohibiting assisted death, several reasons point towards why these laws should be abolished. Firstly, just as we have the fundamental right to live, it should be noted that death is an inherent part of our life course. In the same way that we live according to our own will and determine our course, everyone should thus have a fundamental right to decide how they die. Denying one the right to choose to choose they die infringes on your personal autonomy, therefore, trespassing on your humanity. (Boudreau and Somerville 3-10). These laws should thus be eliminated to uphold this right.

Dignified End of Life Experiences

Moreover, human beings have the inherent desire for proper and dignified end of life experiences. Battin notes that terminally ill patient with intractable suffering are often left incapacitated and deprived of their ability for self-determination and the sense of 'self' (65). These are arguably crucial elements of being human. Consequently, granting the desire of death in these patients is a step towards protecting their human dignity and ensuring that their desire for dignified death is met. This further qualifies why the laws should allow for assisted death across all states.

Allocation of Resources

Also, Boudreau and Somerville noted that large amounts of money are accrued by the state as well as patients' families while trying to lengthen the life of some terminally ill patients, and especially, those in vegetative states (7-8). Ironically, some of these resources are spent on patients who essentially had requested for assisted death to no avail. Abolishment of such restrictive laws means that this money would instead be channeled towards the care of other patients who are more deserving of attention based on their illnesses or desire for more life. While this paradoxically feels as demeaning to the sanctity of life and the equal worth of all persons, in fact, utilitarians would argue that this action of assisted death is moral for it results in maximum good for the highest number of people.

Potential Detrimental Effects

Nevertheless, abolishing the laws prohibiting assisted death may come with associated detrimental effects. For instance, the protection offered by the law to the lives of all would be diminished. Assisted dying as a public policy is also liable to misuse, thus placing the vulnerable groups such as the elderly, those with mental incapacities or disabilities, infants and so on to involuntary active euthanasia. Assisted death also violates the Hippocratic Oath that obligates doctors to preserve life, from conception to death (Boudreau and Somerville 9; Hudson et al. 1405-1407). These, among other reasons, could indeed discount the actual need to abolish laws that outlaw assisted death.


Euthanasia and assisted suicide continue being contentious issues in contemporary medicine. Proponents of assisted death assert that this end of life decision can help to uphold a person's explicit right to personal choices and the right to die. By alleviating pain and suffering, it ensures a more dignified death to the afflicted and lastly, helps save costs of healthcare for when people want their care delivery halted and instead, death hastened. As such, these, among other reasons, depict the need to abolish restrictive laws that outlaw assisted deaths without critically looking into its utility.

Works Cited

Battin, Margaret P. "Physician-Assisted Suicide: Safe, Legal, Rare?."Physician-Assisted Suicide. Routledge, 2015. 63-72.

Boudreau, J. Donald, and Margaret Somerville. "euthanasia and assisted suicide: a physician’s and ethicist’s perspectives."Medicolegal and Bioethics 4.1 (2014): 1-11.

Hudson, Peter, et al. "Legalizing physician-assisted suicide and/or euthanasia: Pragmatic implications."Palliative & supportive care 13.5 (2015): 1399-1409.

December 12, 2023




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