In thousands of homes across the nation victims of terminal illnesses
sit in pain due to their sicknesses. Should these people have to go through all
of that pain and suffering just for the end result of death? Should these
people have the right to assisted death, to rid themselves of unbearable pain?
This topic has been one of the great controversies over the last several years.
Not too long ago if someone was found assisting in suicide, it was seen
as a felony crime. But recently there have been court cases taken up in two
federal appellate courts that ruled terminally ill patients have the right to
seek doctor assisted suicide (Carter 1). These cases took place in New York and
Washington. This added two more to the list of states that legalized this means
of ending life. However, doctor assisted is still seen as a criminal act in
thirty four states(Rosen 1). In my opinion, doctor assisted suicide should be
made legal throughout the nation. If a terminally ill patient wants to take his
or her life due to excruciating pain, he or she should have the ability to
utilize euthanasia. Ultimately, the decision should be that of the terminally
The main controversy over this issue, is the question of morality. Is
it morally right for a doctor to assist in suicide? Many individuals feel that
it is not. It is thought if assisted suicide is legalized throughout the states,
it will encourage families with terminally ill relatives to push them
prematurely to their demise(Carter 2). This is an outlandish assumption. A
family that truly loves one another would not urge a family member to rush any
decision as momentous as ending one’s life. If there is caring among the family,
the suicide would not take place until is was utterly necessary.
Two other important moral questions also arise from this issue. First,
do our mortal lives belong to us alone, are we sovereign over our bodies, or do
they belong to the communities of families in which we are embedded? Second,
will this right give the terminally ill a greater sense of control over their
circumstances, or will it weaken respect for life?(Carter 2)
The first question is ridiculous. It seems as though Carter is trying
to say we will no longer be in charge of ourselves, and we will be living in a
socialistic society. There is no reason why we should not be able to control
the destiny of our lives. We, as human beings, are solely sovereign over our
own bodies. Therefore, it is the terminally ill patient who should have the
ability to choose death over life. It is this person who is experiencing the
pain and suffering of their disease, not a relative or close friend, much less
the government. The legalization of doctor assisted suicide is no reason to
change anything with people who are not terminally ill.
The second question, on the other hand, has some validity and logic to
it. Doctor assisted suicide would give the dying a certain sense of control.
It would enable the patient to have a certain feeling of power, knowing that he
or she has the ability to complete his or her life upon request. This may sound
somewhat awkward; however, it is quite possible that it would give the patients
a sense of well being. Furthermore, it gives them a chance to end their lives on
their terms, instead of letting a disease determine their course in life. As
for the second half of this question, it should in no way weaken the respect for
life. Losing respect for life is for the weak minded. If anything it
strengthens the patient’s respect; a person in the last stages of a terminal
illness has endured some of the worst life has to offer. It takes away many of
his capabilities to perform what would normally be commonplace activities; in
short it has overtaken his life and dignity. The ability to perform legal
assisted suicide would help to replace some of the dignity which the illness has
extracted from a person’s life. It would give the person the capability to end
matters on his own terms.
John Stuart Mill, one of the great philosophers of the nineteenth
century, derived a theory which is an excellent example as an argument for the
legalization of doctor assisted suicide, or all moral crimes for that matter.
This theory was deemed the “Harm Principle”: a person is wholly sovereign over
his body. It is