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Physician Assisted Suicide Essay, Research Paper
20th Century History
15 February 2001
Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide: Public Opinions
Euthanasia and physician assisted suicide (PAS) have been more widely accepted in the last decade of the 1900?s then any prior. In the United States, polls of citizens and medical professionals have shown an increase in support of PAS and euthanasia. Physician assisted suicide and euthanasia have been addressed by courts and state legislation. Even though most religious groups still condemn this choice, the right to die has gained support throughout the 1990?s.
The American Medical Association?s definition of Euthanasia is “the administration of a lethal agent by another person to a patient for the purpose of relieving the patient?s intolerable pain and incurable suffering.”# Euthanasia is a Greek word that means “good death”. This word was diminished in Nazi Germany. In 1939 the Nazi?s were some of the first people to practice euthanasia. The Nazi?s would put the mentally retarded, physically challenged and citizens that they thought were suffering, to death. They used euthanasia in their concentration camps and because of all of the mass murdering the United States opinion polls went down.#
There are two types of Euthanasia, passive and active. Active euthanasia is considered by most people to be the doctor administering the drug. For instance doctors could prescribe a medication for the patient that would act like a depressant and slow the
heart beat down. They could also have a lethal injection that the patient would inject into himself or herself. Passive euthanasia is thought of as withholding or with drawing treatment by request of a patient. For instance when a respirator is withdrawn by request, that is considered by most citizens to be passive euthanasia.#
More then half of the requests for physician assisted suicide come from the family members.# “During the latter part of the 20th century medical technology advanced in ways that allowed doctors to prolong the lives of people who in earlier times would have died.” An example of the modern technology is Artificial Respirators and feeding tubes.
Artificial respirators help people breath that wouldn’t normally and feeding tubes give people who are unable to eat or swallow food and water.#
The only state in the United States to legalize euthanasia and physician assisted suicide was Oregon. Oregon was able to pass The Death with Dignity Act. This act, which was passed in October of 1997, allowed terminally ill Oregon residents to receive a prescription from their physicians to self administer lethal medications.# These lethal medications would kill the person eventually and stop their suffering. Some of the doctors feel that by prescribing these drugs that they could be accused of murder.# The Oregon Health Division (OHD) observes the Death with Dignity Act annually. After the OHD takes down the stats of how many people who died and how many people were prescribed lethal drugs they make a public report. The OHD?s first report stated that 23 people received lethal drugs and 15 of those patients took the drug and successfully died. The other eight didn?t take the pill and of them six died from their illness and two were still living as of January 1, 1999. Of the 15 suicides there were no problems.#
The only problem found with the Death with Dignity Act was that there was no penalty for the doctor not reporting a prescription of a lethal drug. If just one doctor didn?t report a prescription it would throw off the OHD?s annual report.# Some citizens feel that another problem is that the physicians are only allowed to prescribe oral drugs and not lethal injections. Others feel that this is a good section of the Death with Dignity Act but some have problems that no physician is forced into assisting in suicide. Doctors can make the decision if they want to assist or not.#
Washington and California tried to follow Oregon?s example of the Death with Dignity Act but the only thing that stopped the act from passing was the majority vote by the citizens. California tried to pass the act for two years and after the first year the percent of the supporters went up by 5% but just not enough to pass the act. Washington?s percent of supporters only went up 3%. Each state is home to Death with Dignity Education centers.#
The Supreme Court left the states to decide if Physician assisted suicide and euthanasia were going to be legal or not. The only state to act on the freedom has been Oregon.# Thirty-Five of the Fifty States have statutes criminalizing assisted suicide. Of them are Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. Nine states criminalize through common law. Some of them are Maryland, Massachusetts and Nevada. North Carolina, Utah and Wyoming abolished common laws against assisted suicide. In Ohio the state?s Supreme Court stated in 1996 that assisted suicide is not a crime and in Virginia there is no clear law against assisted suicide.#
The opponents of euthanasia and physician assisted suicide have very good
reasons for disliking euthanasia. Some critics are very concerned that if euthanasia is legalized people could be prematurely put into suicide since diagnosis is sometimes wrong. Critics also feel that if either one is legalized there would be pressure from family members to euthanize the person so the hospital bill doesn?t increase.# A third reason the opponents dislike these potential laws is because they believe people will ask to die for the wrong reasons.# One of the most popular groups that despise euthanasia is the AMA. Two of there reasons for euthanasia not being legalized is that euthanasia is against the medical profession. They say that it?s against helping people get better. The AMA also says that things can be done to ease the suffering of people and that euthanasia is just one of the easy ways out.#
The supporters of euthanasia and physician assisted suicide often have experienced a form of protracted death. These supporters are made up of physicians, lawyers, ethicists and ordinary citizens.# Supporters believe that it isn?t possible to relieve all suffering so that is why physician assisted suicide and euthanasia is necessary. Other times the person?s is in such a vegetative state that it is not worth living any longer.# Polls show that the support of euthanasia and physician assisted suicide have gone up from 60% in1996 to 70% in 1998 and in the year 2000 it was at 80%.# Supporters are trying to get the Supreme Court to legalize euthanasia but the Supreme Court has already made the decision to leave that up to the states.
Many physicians feel that if euthanasia was legalized they would have trouble letting the patients go. It would be troublesome because everyday they face death and their jobs are to prolong life not cut it short.# In April of 1998 the New England Journal
Of Medicine held a study, which found that a quarter of the doctors that were polled would chose to be a part of euthanasia. These doctors felt that if a patient were to come to them for a good reason they would be willing to prescribe him or her a lethal drug.#
Most physicians think that they should be the only ones who can prescribe these lethal drugs.#
When ever a debate about euthanasia is brought up one of the main things that are discussed is religion. Many Christens dislike suicide of any kind. Their two main arguments are that life is a gift from god and god should be the only one to take it away. Their second argument is if god supports people in suffering and to seek a person?s death would show a lack of trust in god. The Islamic religion believes that physician assisted suicide and/or euthanasia is an inappropriate act and is very sac religious.# Jehovah’s Witnesses also believe that any type of suicide is sac religious.# Orthodox Jews and Christians were seen in November of 1997, where they appeared in the Supreme Court to support law?s trying to ban euthanasia. One group that is very against euthanasia is the Salvation Army. They believe that people do not have the right to choose if they want to die. They?re quoted by saying, “Only God is [in control] over our life and death…the grace of god con sustain through any ordeal or adversity.”#
Humanists, non-Christians, and liberal Christians all support euthanasia. There two major points for supporting euthanasia are a persons life is their own and they should have the right to decide if they want to end it by committing suicide or seeking any sort of help. There second reason for believing in euthanasia is any terminal illness can become painful, so death can be a relief for the suffering. The Unitarian Universalist?s
(UU), a liberal religious group, support PAS and euthanasia only if they?re guidelines. Mennonites don?t really take a pro or con side on the issue of euthanasia; they feel that the decision is up to the state.#
Opinion polls in the United States have found that a majority of Americans approve the actions of Dr. Kevorkian.# CNN and USA Today took opinion polls in 1997, which found that 57% of the people were in favor of euthanasia and 35% were against it. Certain polls were given in the West Coast to Washington, California and Oregon. In Washington the support was at 46% in 1991 and rose. In California the percentage of support was at 46% in 1992 and that rose. In Oregon the percentage rose from 51% in 1994 to 60% in 1997. Polls were also given in Canada, Britain, Australia, and the Netherlands. These polls which were taken in 1995 showed an increase in Canada from 45% to 76%. In Britain and Australia the percentage in favor of euthanasia was around 80. The Netherlands, which made euthanasia legal, percentage was all the way up to 92%. #
Many US citizens feel that physician Assisted suicide and euthanasia are appropriate and justified. Over the past few years in the 1990?s support has gone up a great deal and will most likely continue to rise over the years. Some physicians even feel that in some cases it is necessary to “pull the plug”. Certain cases have been addressed in front of the Supreme Court and many other court systems but never has the US been able to find complete support in issues regarding euthanasia and physician assisted suicide. Instead of creating a law that will ban or keep it the Supreme Court has left it up to the states. Maybe one day the citizens of the US will have the right to decide when the end
of there life will come.
# “Euthanasia,” (Online) Available http://www.law.about.com/newsissues/
law/msub26.htm. 10 Dec. 2000.
# Charles Mckhann, A Time to Die (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999) 54.
# Mckhann 100-101.
# “Analysis: Oregon?s First Year Under the Death with Dignity Act,” (Online)
Available http://www.iaetf.org/orrpt1.htm. 19 Dec. 2000.
# “Analysis:…Death with Dignity Act”.
# “Analysis:…Death with Dignity Act”.
# “Oregon?s Death with Dignity Act,” (Online) Available http://www.ohd.
hr.state.or.us/chs/pas/pas.htm. 2 Dec. 2000.
# Sue Woodman, Last Right: The Struggle over the Right to Die (New York:
Plenum Trade, 1998) 146-47.
# Clarence Braddock, “Physician-Assisted Suicide,” (Online) Available http://
www.eduserv.hscer.washington.edu/biothics/topics/pan.htm. 3 Dec. 2000.
# “Assisted Suicide Laws State by State,” (Online) Available http://www.
euthanasia.com/bystate.htm. 3 Dec. 2000.
# “Key Issue: Right to Die,” (Online) Available http://www.2facts.com/stories/
index/z00029.asp. 11 Jan. 2001.
# Woodman 20.
# Mckhann 27.
# “Key Issue: Right to Die”.
# B. Robinson, “Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide: All Sides of the Issue,” (Online) Available wysiwyg://7/http://www.religioustolerance.org/euthanas.http. 3 Dec. 2000.
# Mckhann 60-61.
# “Key Issue: Right to Die”.
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