This research paper presents the ethical principles against physician assisted suicide based on both the utilitarianism theory and virtue ethics. Medical professional codes prohibit physicians from carrying out assisted suicide. Despite ethical and legal bans, there has been increased lobbying to legalize this in recent years.Views on the pros and cons should be clearly articulated by medical practitioners so as the public can decide whether to embrace change. In addressing this controversial issue; physicians, policymakers, and the public must consider the individual needs of patients, the vulnerability of minority patient groups, ethics and professionalism, and the complexities of these patient's healthcare.
The morality of this issue is here-in discussed under an individual's capability to decide on manner and timing of his or her death, the effect of the person's death on the physician, the utiliritarian analysis of this type of death, the right to have a dignified death, the reason for committing suicide, potential costs that shall be saved, public support or lack thereof, protection against exhaustion of family assets, the sanctity of human life, probable errors in diagnosis and impact of the patient's life on others.
"The purpose of medicine is not to relieve all the problems of human mortality, the most central and difficult of which is which is why we have to die in ways to us....Medicine's role must be limited to what it can it can appropriately do, and it has neither the expertise nor the wisdom to respond to the deepest and oldest human questions" (Kathleen M. Foley, 1999)
Campaigners for physian assisted suicide state that each person has the authority to decide when to terminate his life without undue influence being exerted.This involves timing and manner of death, avoidance of pain and suffering and the memory on how a person would want to be remembered. This decision should be autonomous and self-declaratory. This proposition is however flawed since it underscores the principle on sanctity of life. This argument is also flawed since it argues that these patients are under immense pain and suffering which research has shown not to be true. The reason is actually as a result of depression and loss of hope. When this were aptly treated, 50% of Americans were found to reverse their decisions.Terminally ill patients may also feel that they are a financial burden to their families and friends leading to more depression. If this is actually a misconception and the family values the patient's life more than the mental and financial burden, then it would be wrong for him or her to commit suicide.
Utilitarian reasoning proposes that this form of suicide enables a patient to control manner and time of death and a person's autonomy is honoured at death.The theory also seeks to prove that costs far outweigh the benefits through utalitarian calculation as proposed by John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). Calculation of pleasure is weighed against pain. Professional ethics however dictate it is wrong to terminate a person's life merely based on a utalitarian analysis. This is since it is not a particular individual's analysis but rather a general one based on the greatest pleasure based on a majority of patients. Thus this does not answer the querry whether physian assisted suicide is good for the society as a whole. Proponents campaigning for legalization of this form of suicide have claimed public support on yhis but various polls in the U.S have disapproved utalitarian thinking. Public opinion polls regarding assisted suicide and euthanasia have been voted down such as Michigan Proposal B, in 1998 by 71 to 29 percent. In 1992, California Proposition 161, a bill seeking to legalize voluntary euthanasia was voted down by 54-46 percent. Based on this results, the assumption that the majority of people is in support of this is incorrect and misleading.
Based on an extrapolation of figures derived from the Dutch experience with euthanasia and assisted suicide, it is estimated that America could save approximately $627 million dollars in medical expenditures if assisted suicide was nationally legalized.This cost-benefit analysis under utalitarian thinking is absurd under a moral question since no costs should be spared in preserving the life of a human being.
Phyisician assisted suicide is more of moral issue and is rather based on virtue ethics.
"... emphasizes that ethics is an activity--something you do--rather than a body of knowledge that you memorize. (Vaughn, 2007)
This is an approach that capitalizes on the character of the moral agent rather than rules and consequences such as the case in utalitarian theory. These virtues were expounded by Aristotle as prudence, courage, fortitude,courage, liberality, justice, magnificence, magnanimity and temperance.
Prudence is a virtue that entails exercising sound judgment in physician assisted suicide. It is particularly applied on a theological basis. Of main concern is the sanctity of human life. There is widespread belief in a Holy Deity and human life as sacred; who is the only one with the right to take away life. Therefore, no amount of human suffrage should be used to justify physician assisted suicide. Justice is a concept on ethics that insists on moral righteousness based on rationality, law, fairness and equity.A physian may carry out a wrong diagnosis and consequent prognosis which may find the patient as terminally ill. Advice to the patient to end life in this case would be highly improper. It is therefore highly immoral to subject a terminally sick patient to undue or unfair influence so as to propagate death. Courage, fortitude and bravery constitute the will and intrepid urge to confront uncertainities. Magnificence entails doing great acts of courage. Physical courage enables a patient to confront his or her fears on death while moral courage ensures a patient acts justly under opposition or stigma. Once patients acquire courage and the will to live, depression and hence the urge to commit suicide diminishes which is the root-cause of euthanasia. Magnanimity is a virtue that entails being of great mind and heart for a noble purpose. Therefore, such patients normally refuse to give up and are rather hopeful rather depressed about their condition. Temperance involves the ability of a person to control oneself even when experiencing a threat to life. If patients are temperamental, this means that neither their emotional burden can affect their judgement nor would undue influence to accept death be entertained.
It is therefore important to preserve human life based on proper ethics that should be guided by principles such as virtue rather than an utilitarian cost benefit nanlysis. The sanctity of human life should be upheld rather than insisting on saving costs or guarding against depletion of family assets.