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Physician Assisted Suicide: Legal In The United States

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Physician Assisted Suicide: Legal in the United States

"If only physician assisted suicide had been available to my father, as it is to the people of Oregon, I have no doubt he would have chosen it over taking a pistol to his head," says daughter of Lesley W. Angell (Angell 2). Angel suffered from prostate cancer for years, and eventually "it spread throughout his body driving him to commit suicide" (1). Having physician assisted suicide in the United States legal to terminally ill patients would make their deaths more peaceful and less painful for their families. Physician assisted suicide, also known as PAS, is a type of euthanasia that many physicians, patients, and families are in favor of.

Physician assisted suicide has been a very controversial subject for many years. Physician assisted suicide is when a drug is prescribed to a patient by a doctor and the patient takes it on his or her own (Roberts 23). PAS is both desirable and inevitable; not making it legal in some circumstances will force physicians and patients to do it illegally. Throughout history, many physicians have helped patients to die (McKahn 8). In most cases, the individuals want to die because they suffer from extreme medical conditions (Roberts 24). The pain just cannot be taken any longer. Dr. Charles F. McKahn, M.D. shares his feelings:

In one sense, all deaths are bad; most of us would like to live as long as possible if we could so on our terms, free if the physical and mental failures of old age and of serious prolonged suffering from disease. Because we have no control of any of these, we have every reason to look more closely at the actual circumstances of dying (16).

Quite frequently, patients suffer from terminal illnesses, such as cancer, AIDS, neurological diseases, organ failure, dementia, Huntington's disease, or old age (McKahn 16). People who suffer from these conditions should have better comfort care and assisted dying.

Though technology has brought many medical advances, there remain many conditions for which do not have cures. These patients, who face these terrible illnesses, "want not to live but to die" (McKahn 85). Most people know someone who has gone through tremendous amount of suffering from terminal illness. By making PAS legal could that lessen their pain? A physician who agrees to assist in a patient's suicide normally provides a prescription for a sleeping medication that "suppresses respiration when taken in large doses" (93). It becomes legal which aids the terminally ill person to end their life (McCuen 6). In physician assisted suicide the doctor in no way makes the patient end their life, the choice is all on the patient.

Many court cases challenge the right to euthanasia. Euthanasia usually refers to a third party's actions helping one's death (Hagedorn 1). Physician assisted suicide is related to Euthanasia but the third party must be a doctor (Caven 12). In most dictionaries, the word suicide is "the act of taking one's own life" (Roberts 2). Often many people think of suicide as horrible, because it is the taking of one's life, but in this case it is only "relieving great pain or suffering that cannot necessarily be relieved (2). Most commonly heard of is the Quinlan and Cruzan case, which ruled that, "Every American has the right to refuse unwanted medical treatment (including foods and fluids), for any reason, even if it leads to death" (Hagedorn 1). This case took a step further in the PAS movement, but not making it legal quite yet (1). Since physician assisted suicide is very arguable and not understood the courts must take everything into consideration.

The process seems to be very long; the intent of it being prolonged is "to make sure the patient wants to go through with it" (Caven 32). Only one state out of fifty has PAS legal, which is Oregon (Angell 2). Oregon's Death with Dignity Act reads that,

Terminally ill patients who wish to obtain a lethal prescription under the Oregon law often do so only for peace of mind. Oregon's Department of Human Services provides the required documents and monitors the law's use, but it is up to qualified patients and Oregon-licensed physicians to implement the law. (Angell 2)

A terminally ill and mentally competent adult patient must voluntarily request PAS (Hagedorn 1). The patient must then have two physicians examine them confirming diagnosis and prognosis (1). Having more than on doctor's opinion is trust worthier. After the doctor has given the patient all other alternatives, "the patient must make a witnessed request

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