The Wrongfulness of Assisted-Suicide

Recently, the grandfather of a good friend of mine passed away. He was 97. For someone who has lived his life in admirable fruitfulness and grace, he was surely a man who would bequeath a lasting legacy of fatherhood, providence, and, most importantly, love, to his children and grandchildren. But just as we mused on his rather prolific life with much admiration and esteem, the manner by which he spent his last remaining months here on earth appeared to have created an impression of both dilemma and sadness. The man died of bone cancer. And without having to rush towards the inevitable, seeing the old man suffer did elicit critical dialogues as to the role of Assisted Suicide in that specific case most notably when, bereft of any hope, a dying person endures bouts of intense suffering he surely did not deserve, not in his life time, and especially not during the sunset of his life.

Taking cue from this experience, I would like to develop a paper which explores the range of ethical norms which are applicable in Assisted Suicide which is to invoked for terminally ill and intensely suffering patients. The old man of whom I speak in this paper neither sought nor was introduced into the idea of committing Assisted Suicide. There were alternative solutions practiced until he breathed his last. Within the purview of such experience therefore, I would like to argue that Assisted Suicide does not represent a definitive solution to address the problems of terminally-ill and intensely-suffering patients, inasmuch as it is, ethically speaking, unjustified and wrong.

Clarifying Some Issues Relative to Assisted Suicide
Before proceeding with a careful juxtaposition of the pros and cons ensuing from the debates which are inspired by the issue, there are merits to firstly defining the nature and implications of what we may call Assisted Suicide in both intent and practice. This is essential in that any inquiry into the application of a certain kind of knowledge in the philosophy of human conduct  i.e., Assisted Suicide specifically for this paper  must first begin with a clarification of the concepts and definitions that seek to shed light into this very divisive subject matter.

Assisted Suicide, one may need to take a good note, falls directly under the umbrella of Euthanasia. The latter term, which etymologically speaks of good (eu) death (thanatos), pertains to any attempt to end ones life for reasons involving severely compromised human existence on account of illness or impending death.  Braid and Rosenbaum define Euthanasia as mercy killingbecause the (motive) is to act humanely toward one who is suffering (1989, p. 8). As such therefore, one may need to clarify that Euthanasia is categorically different from murder, in that the former possesses a benevolent intent to hand over to a severely punished person his or her humane passing, while the latter pertains to a deliberate attempt to end peoples lives with malicious with motives defined by malice or retaliation.

Assisted Suicide is one form of Euthanasia because it gives to those who suffer a chance to decide for themselves, with the assistance of instruments designed to achieve such end, the date and time, as well as the characteristic peaceful nature of their deaths. It is therefore voluntary on the part of the patients. Bunch, in his article entitled Physician Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia (2005), defines Assisted Suicide as an act which helps terminally ill patients to bring to themselves their death by providing the means to do it (p. 3). Critical to Bunchs definition lies in the clause, but the patient performs the lethal action himself or herself. Assisted Suicide is therefore distinct (but related) to Euthanasia on account of two chief characteristics (1) it is characteristic of the power of self-determination  i.e., that we leave it to the patients to decide for themselves the definitive act which effectively ends their lives, and (2) it is characteristic of the passive nature defining the role of relatives.

The ethical debate which pits against each other those in favor and those against Assisted Suicide can be summed in the succinct statement which M. Battin has developed in his book Ending Life Ethics and the Way We Die (2005). With clarity and straightforwardness, the author contends
Underlying this debate is the individuals role in his or her own death whether ones role should be as far as possible active, self-assertive, and responsible and may include ending ones own life  or, on the other hand, acceptant, obedient and passive in the sense of being a patient, where allowing to die is the most active step that should be taken. (Battin 5).

If one therefore analyzes the statement of Battin, it would appear that the crucial question that one needs to ask before performing Assisted Suicide lies in the ethical parameters of self-determination i.e., do we really have to power to take upon ourselves the burden of deciding when or in what manner would we die Or are we limited to only accepting the fate of having to let nature take its course, and thus wait for the natural processes to dictate the date and time of our passing from this world, regardless of the huge toll of human suffering and intense pain

Unraveling the Two Arguments in Support of Assisted Suicide
Given the above-cited considerations, I still strongly believe that Assisted Suicide does not have ethical justifications since it is not, and cannot be invoked as the most definitive solution to the problem of human suffering, especially those wrought by debilitating and fatal diseases. But in order that one may take close heed of the two oft-quoted arguments being used by those in favor of Assisted Suicide, it may prove to be wise for this paper to mention and briefly elaborate on them.

First, many proponents of Assisted Suicide believe that the act does no harm against the dignity of and sanctity of human life since death is inevitable anyway, especially for those who are at the last stages of their human lives. Invoking death, it seems that they imply, allows us to recognize the inevitability of death. This is the mainline thesis of W. Henry in his article which appeared on Time Magazine way back August 1991. Henry said that in the event when cure is no longer possible, and that, the patient seeks relief through Assisted Suicide or Euthanasia, such an act must be considered as the most appropriate way to address the dilemma of both patients and their relatives (Henry, 1991, p. 46). Henry even continues with his argument in saying that Assisted Suicide is the self-deliverance of the terminally ill patients from their agony, misery, loneliness, self-pity and depression in view of an imminent death (1991, p. 46).

Second, there is a line of argument which maintains that Assisted Suicide is an act that preserves human dignity because it ends human suffering. And this is echoed by Joseph Fletcher in his own justifications of the said matter.  Fletcher notes that, it is harder morally to justify letting somebody die a slow and ugly death, dehumanized, than it is to justify helping him to escape from such misery. This is the case at least in any code of ethics which is humanistic or personalistic, i.e., in any code of ethics which has a value system that puts humanness and personal integrity above biological life and function. (Fletcher, 1989, p. 85).

Here, Fletcher seems to raise a very legitimate point. If one takes his argument squarely, one can be led to recognize that the quality of human life does not sole depend on the biological functions of our human body, but the overall quality that defines our personality. When there is extreme suffering and pain, Fletcher seems to imply that the quality of human life is likewise compromised. This can be very true especially for terminally-ill persons who, on top of their physical pain, do also suffer from anxiety, anger, depression, neglect and self-pity. Invoking Assisted Suicide, Fletcher concludes, can be seen as an act which promotes, rather than defeats, the sacred concepts of dignity and worth of human persons, consistent with the teachings of the major religions of the world.

Making a Case in Favor of Continued Disallowance of Assisted Suicide
Having presented the first two arguments which were propounded by the proponents of Assisted Suicide, I still find their logic misleading in many ways. To date, there are only two states which have allowed certain provisions which effectively legitimized the commission of Assisted Suicide  i.e., Oregon and Washington (Washington Becomes Second State to Approve Physician-Assisted Suicide, 2008). In my opinion however, these laws must be repealed, and other states must disregard any initiatives seeking to allow room for Assisted Suicide to be practiced in healthcare facilities, in respectful deference to the following reasons

First, we must always remember that any argument being leveled in favor of Assisted Suicide disregards the fact that, no matter how one tries hard to coat it with pragmatic justifications of all sorts, it remains and will always remain to be suicide  or killing  in both intent and nature. Gay-Williams (1989) submits an argument that is consistent with logic of above-said premise. The author maintains that Assisted Suicide involves taking a human life, either ones own or that of another (p. 97). To this end, one would clearly see that while there are differentiations in viewing the intention of having to kill a terminally-ill person, albeit not directly but as accessory to the decision to have a person killed anyway, the fact that Assisted Suicide effectively truncates life just the same cannot be counter-agued.

If there is therefore a paramount argument which can lend support to my proposal to repeal the existing Assisted-Suicide provisions in the states of Oregon and Washington, then the consideration of ending the fundamental positivity of human life must be invoked. Any suicide, whether Assisted or not, and whether benevolently intended or not, constitutes serious damage and violation against the basic positivity or goodness of being first of all created. I feel obliged to borrow the position of the Catholic Church specifically on this view since I find their arguments, at best, very affirming of the inherent dignity of human life. While I do not want to sound sectarian in my argumentation, I believe that the Catholic Church can nevertheless offer telling perspectives on the matter. In a document which it released entitled Declaration on Euthanasia, the Catholic Church used the term killing to pertain to any act which may constitute Euthanasia or Assisted Suicide. It states no one is permitted to ask for this act of killing for himself or herself or for another person entrusted to his or her care, nor can he or she consent to it, either explicitly or implicitly (Declaration on Euthanasia, no. 2). Thus, by using the word killing, instead of self-determination or Assisted Suicide, I believe that it was able to truthfully capture the exact nuance of the problem i.e., we have to admit that Assisted Suicide is killing, period.

Insofar as Assisted Suicide impinges upon an objective damage against the fundamental goodness inherent in human life, I therefore argue that such an act is ethically wrong.

Second, I believe that there are merits into my proposal to repeal existing laws which allow for the legitimate conduct of Assisted Suicide, for reasons that it cannot hope to ever capture the many other acceptable alternatives which can be done in catering to terminally-ill, rather than truncating life all together. Proponents of Assisted Suicide believe that the act of mercy killing preserves, rather than frustrates, the quality of human life which has been severely compromised as a result of fatal illness. This, however, does not hold water.

If only to recall, my experience in listening to the stories of my good friend, in her otherwise litany about her grandfather last days, does not seem to elicit an idea that the old mans personal dignity and worth have long vanquished because of the fact that he was dying. True, the old man is in pain most of the time. But it is also true that, during his last moments, he was accompanied by his immediate family and loved ones kind of like wrapped by the warmth of compassion and love that was enveloping his deathbed. Surely, there is a kind of life that is palpable around the deathbed of a person truly loved and blessed  and that is the life that is borne out of companionship, love, faith and an utter respect for life.

What is crucial here is that we need to see that the quality of human life does not depend on biological functions, but on the response of the immediate family in caring for terminally-ill patients, even when death is both inevitable and imminent. We cannot simply say that the quality of life has been compromised simply because a person is suffering intensely. The bigger picture is lost in this line of thinking. We need to see the role of the immediate family around the dying person. Patient-care is part and parcel of the dignity of human life that remains present even at ones deathbed. In fact, this is the mainline contention of Bunch in saying that the debate on Assisted Suicide has led many people to consider only a tiny cross section of the entire reality of patient-care. It is meritorious for this paper to quote the author, as a way to end the presentation of arguments, in relative length
This entire argument concerning rights and regulations may be set wrongly. It assumes that the entire ethical focus is on an isolated autonomous patient and the physician. If care is nothing more than what physicians and nurses do to the person, then the only escape may be assisted death. (But) the emphasis on a person as an isolated monad forgets that the person lives in a community of family, friends, church, and neighborsThe agony of isolation can be softened by a visit from a friend or loved one that has much therapeutic value as a dose of morphine. (Bunch, 2005, p. 15).

I therefore would like to end with a thought that affirms that, first and foremost, Assisted Suicide is a contemporary problem which needs much elucidation and after-thoughts precisely on account of the fact that the ethical considerations surrounding its practice needs to be appreciated and clarified. Along the same vein, it is with conviction and firmness that, after thoughtful consideration of the literatures quoted for this particular study, I am recognizing the wrongfulness of Assisted Suicide based on two chief premises first, that Assisted Suicide is one form of killing, and is therefore ethically wrong, and that second, Assisted Suicide cannot act as the end-all be-all solution to the pains and sufferings of terminally-ill patients.

The solution, if I may submit, is not that we have to take upon ourselves the self-determining power to end the life of suffering person. Truly, this cannot be only solution, as opposed to how the advocates of Assisted Suicide do propose. At the very least, I am of the firm opinion that it is unfair for us to project on to those who are suffering the pity and anguish that we feel on their account. While it is only truthful to acknowledge their suffering, I believe that it is not right to all together take their lives, or give them the means to take their own lives, simply for the purpose of eliminating suffering. Suffering is one aspect of human life. But the inner life that we can speak of, when we are in the presence of our loved ones and friends, are aspects that one must also look into before considering before allowing Euthanasia or Assisted Suicide.


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