Introduction specific person (or class of persons) known

Introduction

The argument surrounding Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) has
become a lot more controversial throughout the years, and will continue to do
so. According to the current law of the Suicide Act 1961, under section 2 it is
a criminal offence to assist another person in the act of committing suicide in
any way.1 The
person in question “need not need be a specific person (or class of persons)
known to, or identified” by the one wishing to commit suicide.2
This therefore means that a doctor facilitating PAS would be liable of a
criminal offence under
the suicide act and would be “liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding
14 years”.3
This controversial topic has many strong arguments for legalisation as well as
many strong arguments against legalisation. Arguably the strongest viewpoint
for legalisation is the respect for the patient’s autonomy, and the strongest
viewpoint against legalisation is the ‘slippery slope’ argument.4
Upon an intense consideration this essay will explain in detail why both
arguments are just as flawed as each other and should be rejected.

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Respect of the Patient’s Autonomy

First of all
the doctor would be relieving numerous kinds of suffering, including physical,
psychological, interpersonal, and also existential.5
If the patient is suffering from physical pain the medicine provided may not
always relieve said suffering which leads to the moral issue of leaving the
patient in a state of unbearable pain. Interpersonal suffering includes the
patient feeling as though they are a burden on their family, as it is up to the
family to not only provide the funds for medication and facilitation, but also
give up time in their day to visit/care for the patient. Existential suffering
would include the patient being unable to enjoy life at all as they are bed
ridden with a critical condition, and therefore questioning their actual
existence within the outside world.

As a
patient, there is a legal right to deny treatment in which carries the
possibility to increase death. It can therefore be argued that a patient should
have the equal right to request such treatment that can expedite death. However
a flaw with this argument is that it could cause some patients to request such
medication in order to relieve close ones, such as family, any financial and
time burdens. The patient would therefore not be requesting PAS through his/her
own will but due to being under pressure, which again would be extremely
immoral to allow. It would however be completely up to the patient to request
the medical intervention, and they may do so due to preferring PAS compared to
heavy sedation or even a withdrawal of life support. In addition it can be
argued that a choice between life and death is personal, and so should not be
regulated by the government at all.

Although the
argument presented above for the legalisation of PAS directly affects the
patient themselves, it also will have direct effects on others such as the
patients family, the doctors involved, and other members of the community
whether they are terminally ill or not.

As
previously discussed, the patients family members may be relieved that the
patient is no longer suffering, which can also lead to a relief of financial
burdens and time burdens for those in question, however there may also be many
negative impacts on the family. Firstly, they would obviously be left
devastated, which in itself could lead to close ones of the patients being
subject to not only emotional distress but also psychological harm. This could
bring about the family having ‘suicidal’ thoughts due to becoming depressed or
emotionally vulnerable.6
This shows that in most cases it is the close family members who are actually
subject to major emotional issues rather than the patient.7

Doctors
could also be directly affected by PAS as the actions may conflict with not
only their moral but also personal beliefs. These conflictions could lead to
the doctors feeling guilty of supplying the lethal injection to the point where
they could be subject to emotional distress and psychological harm. Although in
countries where PAS is legal the doctors taking part in the activity only do so
if they voluntarily want to. This means that no doctor would have to be a part
of PAS if he does not wish to, which severely weakens the previously mentioned
negative effect on doctors. However the argument is still there as some doctors
who have been through PAS themselves have stated that there are cases in which
the patients actually pressure and intimidate the doctors into carrying out
PAS.8
In addition, the doctor would only supply the lethal substance and so there
should be no need for them to feel any kind of guilt, however this would still
happen in some cases. Finally, the doctor may find what he is doing morally
correct as he is helping the patient in becoming relieved of pain and
suffering, which could cause the doctor to feel good about themselves.

Finally,
other people such as elderly and terminally ill people can be affected by the
legalisation of PAS. The previously mentioned people may be under pressure to
go through PAS as they feel as though they are a burden to others around them.
This in itself could cause severe emotional distress. It can however, be argued
that everyone including elderly and other terminally people should have a right
to end their life if they are suffering or are subject to pain.

1 Suicide Act 1961, s 2

2 Suicide Act 1961, s 2(1A)

3 Suicide Act 1961, s 2(1C)

4 Danny Wong, ‘The Arguments
and Criticisms Surrounding PAS’ (Dartmouth
Undergraduate Journal of Science, 18 March 2013) accessed 03 January
2018

5 Danny Wong, ‘The Arguments
and Criticisms Surrounding PAS’ (Dartmouth
Undergraduate Journal of Science, 18 March 2013) accessed 03 January
2018

6 Margaret Pabst-Battain, “Manipulated Suicide,” Bioethics
Quarterly 2 (1980), pp. 123, 134

7 Johnston B P, Death as a Salesman – What’s Wrong with
Assisted Suicide (New Regency Publishing, 2nd edition, 1998)
Ch. 2 p. 17

8 Stevens KR Jr.,’Emotional and Psychological Effects of
Physician-Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia on Participating Physicians’,(2006)
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