Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Physician-Assisted Suicide

Logging on to my yahoo mail this morning, I noticed a news story about a woman who has filed a lawsuit to allow physicians to prescribe for her (without legal repercussions for them) life-ending medication. She has Stage IV cancer, has only months to live, and any manner of her death looks bleak.

I had just purchased the new issue of The Economist (July 27-July 3, 2015), with the cover story, "The right to die. Why assisted suicide should be legal." The summary article (p. 9) and the story (pp. 16-20) looks that the difficult issue from a helpfully international perspective. A few European counties, five American states, and Colombia allow for some kind of physician-assisted dying (p. 9). Oregon's law and also Colombia's took effect in 1997, with Belgium and the Netherlands following, while Switzerland has permitted the practice for quite a while, with clinics assisting patients to die, including one that accepts patients from other countries (p. 17). Meanwhile, there are legal cases and bills in Britain, Germany, South Africa, Canada, and several American states (p. 16). So the "time has come" for the idea of assisted suicides as attitudes change and legal and legislative efforts make progress.

Yet the Hippocratic Oath, which disallows administration of poison, is a strong aspect of the medical tradition (p. 20), as is the notion that ending your own life is a kind of sin. There is also the factor of possible improvement, like the article's story of a paralyzed Canadian man whose health improved. but that man has also pushed for a bill in Parliament to allow doctors to help patients die (pp. 18-19). It is a significant issue, which  my students in "Contemporary Moral Problems" have discussed; if there is " 'unbearable suffering with no prospect of improvement '" (p. 19), should that patient have such an option. According to this Economist article, attitudes are becoming more open to allow horribly ill people to have that choice available. Personally I am still against it, but I feel compassion for the California woman in the above news story. What do you think?

Here is the article:

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