Pician-Assisted Suicide

Discussion 1: Pician-Assisted Suicide

Death is defined as the cessation of (1) heartbeat, (2) breathing, and (3) electrical activity in the brain. It is possible for death to be postponed through life support; death can also be accelerated through refusing food and water, which are things needed for survival. A “good” death is considered one that includes physical comfort, support from loved ones, acceptance, and adequate medical care.

A relevant issue to consider is the topic of euthanasia, which refers to the act of painlessly ending the lives of persons who are suffering from incurable diseases or have severe disabilities. Another term used for euthanasia is mercy killing. In considering euthanasia within the context of the lifespan, what are our rights at the end of our lives? What are the laws in the United States and other countries? Where does public opinion stand on the issue?

There are three types of euthanasia, and the distinction between each is very important:

  1. Active euthanasia involves deliberately and directly causing a person’s death. This can be done, for example, by administering a lethal dose of drugs. The ethics of active euthanasia are hotly contested.
  2. Passive euthanasia involves allowing a terminally ill person to die of natural causes by withholding lifesaving treatments. This can be done, for example, by taking someone off of life support. In the United States today, there is a trend toward acceptance of passive euthanasia.
  3. Assisted suicide, which is usually “assisted” by a physician, lies somewhere in the middle. It does not involve actively killing someone, but it does involve making available to a person who wishes to die the means by which she or he may do so.

Assisted suicide is illegal in most states of the United States (as of 2017), except Montana, Washington, Vermont, California, Oregon, Colorado, and Washington, DC. Attempts to legalize assisted suicide, however, have resulted in many legislative bills within individual states over the past 20 years.

Oregon was the first state to make physician-assisted suicide legal when it passed the Death With Dignity Act in 1997. The Death With Dignity Act allows terminally ill Oregonians to end their lives through the voluntary self-administration of lethal medications expressly prescribed by a physician for that purpose. It is up to qualified patients and licensed physicians to implement the act on an individual basis. Doctors must report when it is done so that the state can keep track of its frequency.

To qualify for Death With Dignity, a patient must be:

  1. 18 years of age or older
  2. A resident of Oregon
  3. Capable of making and communicating health care decisions for himself/herself
  4. Diagnosed with a terminal illness that will lead to death within six (6) months

Again, it is up to the attending physician to determine whether these criteria have been met. The patient must then find another doctor licensed to practice medicine in Oregon who is willing to give them the life-ending drugs. Not all physicians are willing to administer these drugs to patients, even if they do meet the above criteria. The law does not require the presence of a physician when a patient takes lethal medication. A physician may be present if a patient wishes it, as long as the physician does not administer the medication himself/herself.

For this Discussion, you analyze the Death With Dignity movement through a cultural lens. You examine cross-cultural perspectives on death and dying and use them to make an evaluation about whether a chosen culture would likely be supportive of assisted suicide.

To Prepare:

  • Choose one culture and research that culture’s perspectives on death, dying, and assisted suicide. Research any applicable laws as well.
By Day 3

Post the name of the culture you selected and a description of that culture’s perspectives on dying in general. Given those beliefs and attitudes, would this culture likely be supportive of assisted suicide? Support your argument with scholarly references to the literature.

Cooper, J. L., Masi, R., & Vick, J. (2009). Social-emotional development in early childhood: What every policymaker should know. National Center for Children in Poverty [Brief]. Retrieved from http://www.nccp.org/publications/pdf/text_882.pdf

Euthanasia Research & Guidance Organization. (2010). World laws on assisted suicide. Retrieved from http://www.finalexit.org/assisted_suicide_world_laws_page2.html

Fontana, A., & Keene, J. (2009). The grieving process. In A. Fontana & J. Keene, Death and Dying in America (pp. 161–178). Cambridge, UK: Polity.

Leming, M. R., & Dickinson, G. E. (2016). The American experience of death. In M. R. Leming & G. E. Dickinson, Understanding Dying, Death and Bereavement (8th ed., pp. 43–81). Stamford, CT: Cengage.
Understanding Death, Dying, and Bereavement, 8th Edition by Leming, M. R.; Dickinson, G. E. Copyright 2016 by South-Western College Publishing, A Division of Cengage Learning. Reprinted by permission of South-Western College Publishing, A Division of Cengage Learning via the Copyright Clearance Center.

Optional Resources

Playlist: New Ways to Think About Death

This playlist from TED contains links to 10 TED talks that present different viewpoints on death and dying. Available at https://www.ted.com/playlists/241/new_ways_to_think_about_death


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