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  • Anna Chen

Death With Dignity: Debates Surrounding Physician-Assisted Suicide




It’s ingrained in physicians to save lives. They dedicate their entire career to helping and healing others. However, this role is called into question when it comes to the topic of physician-assisted suicide. According to WebMD, physician-assisted suicide is defined as when “a doctor gives a patient a prescription for a lethal dose of medication that they can use to end their life when they’re ready”. Patients seeking this procedure have to meet certain criteria, which includes: being 18 or older, being of mentally sound mind, having a terminal illness with a prognosis of less than 6 months to live, and being able to ingest the medicine themselves. Additionally, patients have to gain approval from multiple doctors and affirm this request multiple times (1). 


There are obvious reasons for physicians to be opposed to this procedure. Namely, it directly contradicts the role of physicians as healers. To help someone die goes directly against their code. Further, this can be a slippery slope and can be hard to control if more common. For example, the criteria may become more relaxed, allowing more and more patients to elect to go through this procedure. 


However, there are those who champion physician-assisted suicide. The foundation of these arguments lie in the belief of the “Right to Die”. Proponents believe that this procedure respects the patient's autonomy. When given all the necessary amount of information needed to make this decision, patients can make informed decisions about how they want to proceed with their lives, even if this means choosing physician-assisted suicide (2). Additionally, some people believe that this is actually merciful, by giving patients an end to their suffering. People in severe pain, with no hope for improvement, will have a low quality of life, and continue to suffer. Further, some people don’t have access to the necessary care for their terminal illnesses, whether this is because of lack of money or other resources. Proponents argue that by allowing these patients to choose physician-assisted suicide, physicians are actually acting in a compassionate and humane way, partly fulfilling their role as healers (2). 


This topic still remains highly controversial within the medical community. In fact, of the 50 states, only 11 have legalized this procedure (3). Other states, such as Florida even criminalize physician-assisted suicide, charging any physician who participates with second degree manslaughter (4). Ultimately, at its core, this issue highlights the complexity of navigating ethical issues within the medical community, especially in palliative care. As the medical community continues its discourse, it’s critical to engage in thoughtful dialogue, informed by ethics, empathy, and a commitment to the well-being of patients. 


Reviewed by Sophia Zhang

Design by Soojin Lee


Citations

  1. Jordan, C. (2024, January 8). What to Know About Physician-Assisted Death. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-to-know-physician-assisted-death

  2. Dugdale, L. S., Lerner, B. H., & Callahan, D. (2019). Pros and Cons of Physician Aid in Dying. The Yale journal of biology and medicine, 92(4), 747–750. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6913818/

  3. Compassion & Choices. (n.d.). States Where Medical Aid in Dying is Authorized. https://www.compassionandchoices.org/resource/states-or-territories-where-medical-aid-in-dying-is-authorized

  4. Patients Rights Council. (2017, January 6). Assisted Suicide Laws in the United States. https://www.patientsrightscouncil.org/site/assisted-suicide-state-laws/

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