How Medically Assisted Suicide Works

Pros and Cons of Medically Assisted Suicide

Since Gallup began tracking moral issues in 2001, the polling company has found physician-assisted death to be one of the more divisive issues [source: Dugan]. Many, if not most, of the people who oppose the practice do so for religious or cultural reasons. But there are several additional arguments regularly put forth as to why this practice should, or should not, be allowed.

The main argument in favor of allowing medically assisted suicide is one of individual rights. A person of sound mind who is terminally ill and wishes to avoid potential excruciating pain, loss of bodily functions and/or loss of mind should be allowed to die with dignity, proponents say, and in a setting of his choice. It's part of one's basic liberties as a human being.

Furthermore, society already allows a person's "passive" death; you can elect to refuse, say, dialysis, feeding tubes, ventilators and other lifesaving measures. And you can ask not to be resuscitated. It's an open secret that many doctors will inject a lethal dose of morphine in patients, under the guise of pain relief [sources: Breslow,Quill and Greenlaw].

Those who argue against legalizing medically assisted death say the practice could easily be abused. Low-income and underinsured patients, for one, might be pressured by cash-strapped family members to swallow some pills and end their lives if continuing treatment is a much pricier option. Or governmental savings could come into play; drugs to assist in suicide are much cheaper than medical care to keep someone alive [sources: ProCon, Lovett].

Another con: Having such a law on the books could make it easier for disabled people to inadvertently kill themselves. For example, a severely disabled person who is having a bad day, some say, might be able to easily persuade her physician she wants to end her suffering and be given lethal medication, when all she really needs is a hug and a caring conversation. An able-bodied person who is in a funk, on the other hand, would never be given such a prescription. Some disability-rights advocates argue that limiting physician-assisted suicide just to people with severe disabilities or incurable conditions seems to imply that their quality of life is inherently less valuable than someone who is able-bodied or disease-free [source: Breslow].

In the end, some argue, doctors are simply not supposed to kill their patients(even though "do no harm" is not part of the Hippocratic Oath, as many people think).