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Physician Assisted Suicide
Rebecca L. Nicholson
Siena Heights Graduate College



Physician Assisted Suicide

Physician assisted suicide is most often sought out by people who suffer a terminal
illness’, depression, and the disabled. Those that are suffering sometimes feel that this is the only
option for them when they are in pain and suffering, some even feel like they are a burden to
their families and that their family would be better off if they no longer were around. Physician
assisted suicide is defined as when a terminally ill patient decides to end his/her own life with a
lethal substance either with direct or indirect assistance of a physician (Physician, 2012). This is
a topic that people continue to debate the pros and cons of the moral and ethical issues that
physician assisted suicide entails.
The debate is over the moral, ethical and legality of physician assisted suicide and if it
should be allowed. Many people whom contemplate suicide are those that are depressed in life
and they feel like life is against them and that suicide is the only way out of their suffering
(Snyder & Sulmasy, 2001). Physicians need to more aggressively treat the symptoms of the
patient especially at the end of life (Opinion, 1996). Once a patient has been diagnosed with a
terminal illness they should not be left alone to just die, there needs to be support for these
patients in the form of pain control, emotional support, hospice and other modalities as well to
help the patient learn to cope with their health issues (Opinion, 1996). Unfortunately more times
than not the physician can only do what the insurance company approves and this sometimes
leaves the patient without the help they need.
We are going to look at why physician assisted suicide is a choice that should not be
allowed because it can be abused. In Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal, the state ran
insurance has previously denied coverage for chemo treatment, but would cover the drugs
needed for assisted suicide (Acton, 2014). Abuses like this is why assisted suicide should remain



illegal. Even with safe guards in place the mentally ill and people that are only suffering from
depression, not a terminal illness, have been able to “doctor shop” until they found physicians
that would prescribe the medications that they were seeking (Acton, 2014).
The legal debate mainly stems from a person’s autonomy to choose that they want to end
their own life (Boehnlin, 1999). Since 1997, when the Oregon legalized Physician Assisted
Suicide, more than 700 terminally ill patients have chosen to end their lives with prescription
medications (Debate, 2014). Medical prognoses are not always accurate and at times may short
the patient on the life they could still be enjoying (Debate, 2014). There is no guarantee of a
timeline that a patient will die after a diagnosis of a terminal disease (Debate, 2014). Some
patients have lived years past when a physician had told the patient to expect to die (Debate,
2014). Many patients that have been diagnosed with a terminal disease will suffer from some
degree of depression and if the physician would treat the depression this could help the patient to
enjoy life and come to terms with the fact that they do have a terminal disease but to continue to
live and not give up on life (Debate, 2014).
My position on physician assisted suicide is that it should not be allowed to be legalized
out of fear. Fear that insurance companies will take it too far and will start to use it as an
alternative to treatments for patients with terminal illness, since the treatments are more
expensive than that of the drugs a physician would prescribe for a patient to end their life (Acton,
2014). This is not a decision that should be in the hands of the insurance companies. Employees
at the insurance company do not know what the situation is for a specific patient. No two patients
are alike and should be allowed the right to the medication that could help them prolong their
life. The physician has gone to school to learn how to treat a patient and then agreed to the
Hippocratic Oath to do no harm to patients. But Insurance companies are making it difficult for



the physician to treat the patient by making medical decisions based on past issues and not what
the current issue is. If the physician was allowed to treat the patient one would think that this
would allow for the patient to receive the care they need and not the care that the insurance
company dictates.
Physician assisted suicide is a way out of agony as some patients would see it (Snyder &
Sulmasy, 2001). A person with a terminal illness may feel like they are a burden on their family
or loved ones that are around and taking care of them as they may not be able to care for
themselves any longer (Snyder & Sulmasy, 2001). Just because a physician says that you are at
end stage of something does not mean that you should just give up and kill yourself. Suicide is
not acceptable and is punishable by law, so why should it be allowed at the end of life? It should
not. It is the easy way out. These people are only thinking about themselves and not the family
and loved ones that will be left behind.
This even goes back to biblical days of the 10 commandments ‘Thou shall not kill’. It has
never been okay to commit suicide or to kill anyone even if that person is yourself. If more
people were educated on how to treat and take care of those that are at end of life stages then
people would not be killing themselves just to get the pain to go away. When a person becomes a
physician they take the Hippocratic Oath of treating patients to the best of their ability and do no
harm unto the patient (Hippocratic, n.d.). Where in there does it say if all else fails give the
patient medications to kill themselves? The following passage just shows that if physician
assisted suicide were to be legalized the boundaries would be blurred. Physicians that may
decide to play God and choose who can live and who can die. There could possibly be more
deaths associated with incompetent people that would not know any better and are unable to give
consent. Then the physician would be making the decision.



"In a society as obsessed with the costs of health care and the principle of utility, the
dangers of the slippery slope... are far from fantasy...
Assisted suicide is a half-way house, a stop on the way to other forms of direct
euthanasia, for example, for incompetent patients by advance directive or suicide in the
elderly. So, too, is voluntary euthanasia a half-way house to involuntary and
nonvoluntary euthanasia. If terminating life is a benefit, the reasoning goes, why should
euthanasia be limited only to those who can give consent? Why need we ask for consent?
(Top 10, 2013)."
Some states like Oregon, Washington, and Montana already have laws that allow for
physician assisted suicide for terminal patients. There have already been cases where a person
that has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and the insurance company had denied them the
opportunity to receive life altering treatments that could prolong their life (Acton, 2014). Any
extension of life is better than leaving those you love prematurely and have them always wonder
why you felt that your life was not worth fighting for. The healthcare field is always making
advancements in medications and treatments that may not completely cure the disease but can
make the disease slow in progression making the quantity and quality of life better for the
patient. Especially if the physician is also treating any depression or other issues the patient may
have like pain management if needed to make the patient able to live. Patients need to know that
they are cared for by their provider and not just forgotten about and left to die.
In conclusion, if physician assisted suicide were legalized there would always be
physicians and insurance companies that would push the limits as to what would be an
acceptable diagnosis for the patient to be able to get life ending medication from a physician.
This could have an even greater impact on people not wanting to go to the doctors for fear that

once they are diagnoses with a disease the insurance company would deny treatments for that
patient because it would just be cheaper if the patient were no longer alive. There is a definite
collation on the impact of power and money when it comes to the healthcare industry. The
insurance companies are already denying lifesaving treatments in some instances and then what
choice does that leave the patient? Physicians need to be able to treat the patient for their
symptoms but many insurances are limited on coverages for these services. People have been
known to find ways around the laws when it comes to physician assisted suicide already, what
would happen if it was readily available and physicians could just prescribe it freely. There
would be more people trying to get medications that are not terminally ill because they are
battling depression or other issues in their lives.




Acton, A. (2014, August 4). The Progressive Case against Assisted Suicide. Retrieved March 7,
2015, from
Boehnlein, J. K. (1999). The case against physician assisted suicide. Community Mental Health
Journal, 35(1), 5-14. Retrieved from
Debate: Should Physician-Assisted Suicide Be Legal? (2014, November 20). Retrieved March
12, 2015, from
Hippocratic Oath. (n.d.). Retrieved March 12, 2015, from
Opinion 2.211 - Physician-Assisted Suicide. (1996, June 1). Retrieved March 12, 2015, from
Physician-assisted suicide. (2012, September 20). Retrieved March 7, 2015, from
Snyder, L., & Sulmasy, D. (2001). Physician-Assisted Suicide. Annals of Internal Medicine,
135(3), 209-216. Retrieved March 9, 2015, from
Top 10 Pros and Cons - Euthanasia - (2013, December 13). Retrieved March 12,
2015, from