What is Doctor-Assisted Suicide?

Jacob Queen

Doctor-assisted suicide is the medical term for any situation where doctors use drugs or other methods to aid their patients in an effort to die sooner. This is usually done in response to some kind of terminal illness that leaves the person with greatly diminished capacity and extreme suffering. There are some non-terminal cases where people may want doctor-assisted suicide if they have a condition that causes a lot of suffering but doesn’t necessarily lead to death. There has been a lot of debate around the world about the ethics behind this issue along with cases of civil-disobedience and many prosecutions.

The Netherlands legalized doctor-assisted suicide in certain circumstances at the beginning of the 21st century.
The Netherlands legalized doctor-assisted suicide in certain circumstances at the beginning of the 21st century.

Medicine has allowed doctors to prolong the lives of many people, but sometimes this can have the side effect of also pro-longing suffering. This has led to many situations where people are in such bad shape that they may wish to die, but they may be too greatly disabled to kill themselves. In these situations, some societies have allowed doctors to offer assistance to these patients. Sometimes this may be done by offering patients drugs that make it possible to die painlessly, and there have even been machines invented that allow disabled patients to self-administer some kind of medication that could kill them.

Doctor-assisted suicide is usually done in response to a terminal illness.
Doctor-assisted suicide is usually done in response to a terminal illness.

The idea of doctor-assisted suicide has a history going back to ancient times. There are many historical accounts of people suffering some kind of horrible injury in battle or some other circumstance and asking a physician to poison them or end their suffering in some way. Different societies have taken very different stances on this issue. In some cultures, it is strongly discouraged, while others have the opposite view. Sometimes the stance on suicide may have a lot to do with the predominant religious beliefs of the society in question.

Those who oppose doctor-assisted suicide do so for many different reasons. For example, they may oppose it for purely religious or ethical reasons, but they may also have several practical concerns. Some people fear that assisted suicide could lead to a slippery slope with a general devaluation of life in the culture. Others worry that there will be cases where people who are mentally ill may request suicide for reasons other than their health, and the fail-safes that have been put in place to avoid these situations might not be reliable enough. There is also a concern that doctors who involve themselves in these kinds of suicides could easily enter ethically dangerous territory if there was ever a mistake.

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Discussion Comments

Sporkasia

I understand people desire to end their lives sometimes. The reasons for this vary. In my opinion, everyone should control his own life in this respect, but when a person asks a doctor to help in this act then he is involving another person. This changes the rules significantly.

Doctors who are morally or professionally opposed to suicide can't be expected to assist others in this act.

Animandel

Whether because of my religious beliefs or because I work in the health profession, I believe life should be valued, and a person should be given every chance to live.

The purpose of medicine is to help people live healthier and more enjoyable lives. Assisting a patient in killing himself doesn't fall into this category. Also, my religion teaches that suicide is a sin beyond forgiveness.

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