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Euthanasia and physician assisted suicide (PAS)

Ethical aspects of PAS

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Ethical aspects of PAS:

Some considerations:

bullet Some terminally ill patients are in intractable pain and/or experience an intolerably poor quality of life. They would prefer to end their life rather than continue until their body finally gives up. Does the state have a right to deny them their wish?
bullet Suicide is a legal act that is theoretically available to all. But a person who is terminally ill or who is in a hospital setting or is disabled may not be able to exercise this option -- either because of mental or physical limitations. In effect, they are being discriminated against because of their disability. Should they be given the same access to the suicide option as able-bodied people have?
bullet Many faith groups within Christian, Muslim, Jewish and other religions sincerely believe that God gives life and therefore only God should take it away. Suicide would then be "considered as a rejection of God's sovereignty and loving plan". 1 They feel that individuals are all stewards of their own lives, but that suicide should never be an option. This is an important belief for members of these religious groups. They would probably be extremely reluctant to choose suicide (including physician assisted suicide) for themselves. But, for each deeply religious individual in North America, there are many nominally religious or secular persons. Substantial numbers of adults who have liberal religious beliefs treat euthanasia as a morally desirable option in some cases. There are also many secularists, atheists, agnostics etc. who actively disagree with religiously based arguments. Many of these folks would like to retain suicide as an option in case they develop a terminal illness and life becomes unbearable.

Do devout believers have the right to take their own personal beliefs and force them on the entire population? Should religious liberals, Humanists, Atheists, Agnostics, etc. be denied their religious freedom to choose PAS?
bullet Many faith groups believe that human suffering can have a positive value for the terminally ill person and for caregivers. For them, suffering can be "a divinely appointed opportunity for learning or purification". A Roman Catholic document mentions that "some Christians prefer to moderate their use of painkillers, in order to accept voluntarily at least a part of their sufferings and thus associate themselves in a conscious way with the sufferings of Christ crucified". 2 These may be meaningful suggestions to some Christian believers. However, can such arguments justify denying PAS to persons who do not share those beliefs?
bullet Many people argue that pain experienced by terminally ill people can be controlled to tolerable levels through proper management. They conclude that there is no need for PAS. However, tens of millions of individuals in North America do not have access to adequate pain management. Tens of millions are without healthcare coverage. Many doctors withhold adequate levels of pain killers because they are concerned that their dying patient may become addicted to the drugs.
bullet By making PAS available, some people will be pressured into accepting assistance in dying by their families. This pressure may sometimes occur in very subtle forms. This is an important argument in favor of strict controls that would confirm that a patient is not being influenced by others. Some feel that the potential for interference is so serious that all assisted suicide should be banned.
bullet Some people wish to die because they are suffering from clinical depression. This is another argument in favor of strict controls to confirm that a patient requesting aid in dying is "of sound mind".
bullet In an age when total medical funding is restricted, is it ethical to engage in extremely expensive treatment of terminally ill people in order to extend their lives by a few weeks, if it is against their will? The money used in this way is not available for pre-natal care, infant care, etc. where it would save lives, and significantly improve the long-term quality of life for others.
bullet Some people argue that patients would be frightened that their physicians might kill them without permission. This is not a valid concern, since a patient would first have to request assistance in dying. If they did not ask for suicide assistance, their doctor would continue to preserve and extend their patients' lives.

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Religious aspects of euthanasia:

There are two main arguments offered by Christians, and those of other faiths, that advise against an individual seeking suicide, for whatever reason:

bullet Life is a gift from God, and that "each individual [is] its steward." 3 Thus, only God can start a life, and only God should be allowed to end one. An individual who commits suicide is committing sin.
bullet God does not send us any experience that we cannot handle. God supports people in suffering. To actively seek an end to one's life would represent a lack of trust in God's promise.

Of course, there is a significant and growing percentage of Agnostics, Atheists, Humanists, secularists, non-Christians and liberal Christians in North America who do not accept these theologically based arguments. They might argue:

bullet Each person has autonomy over their own life. Persons whose quality of life is nonexistent should have the right to decide to commit suicide, and to seek assistance, if necessary, to achieve this.
bullet Sometimes a terminal illness is so painful that it causes life to be an unbearable burden; death can represent a relief to the intolerable pain.

An active political question is whether individuals should be allowed to choose suicide, or whether they should be forced to follow the theological beliefs of the dominant religionz. This point is similar to that raised in discussions on choice in abortion and compulsory prayer in public schools.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Nicholas Chia "Pastoral letter of the archbishop on the issue of euthanasia," Archbishop of Singapore, 2008-NOV-01, at: http://www.veritas.org.sg/
  2. Franjo Cardinal Seper, "Declaration on Euthanasia," the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 1980-MAY-5, at: http://www.cin.org/
  3. Essay: Euthanasia, Synod of the Great Lakes, Reformed Church in America, at: http://www.euthanasia.com/

Site navigation: Home page > "Hot" topics  > Assisted Suicide > here

or: Home page > "Hot" topics  > Suicide menu > Assisted Suicide > here

Copyright 1997 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last updated on 2010-SEP-03
Hyperlinks checked on 2008-APR-22
Author: B.A. Robinson
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