On Nov. 1, Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old who was diagnosed with brain cancer at the beginning of the year, ended her life after taking a lethal dose of medication prescribed by her doctor. Her decision to support the organization Compassion and Choices, as well as her subsequent choice to end her life with the dignity she believed she deserved, has rightfully sparked controversy amongst many people, especially pro-life campaigners.

Currently, assisted suicide is legal in Vermont, Washington and Oregon. Maynard, a native of California, relocated with her family to Oregon in order to fulfill her wish legally. Maynard’s tragic story is both compelling and heartbreaking, but I still believe that it is unethical for a medic to assist in ending the life of a patient under any circumstance.

Most states remain steadfast in their decision to outlaw assisted suicide. In New Mexico, the state attorney general is appealing a recent judge’s ruling that allows residents to obtain life-ending drugs. In Montana, physicians who write prescriptions for lethal drugs at the request of terminally ill patients are legally protected. Almost two weeks ago, the New Jersey Assembly passed a bill that allows physicians to prescribe life-ending drugs to patients who are terminally ill. Despite the bill being passed, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie stated that he will veto the bill once it is brought to his desk. Although Christie’s decision to veto the bill will be a point of contention for many, I find myself in agreement with his decision.

As the ethics of the practice are called into question, I find myself primarily considering the nature of the Hippocratic Oath that all physicians must swear to follow and uphold. It is clear that by assisting in a patient’s suicide, the practitioner is breaking a fundamental principle of the oath. The oath states, “Nor shall any man’s entreaty prevail upon me [the physician] to administer poison to anyone; neither will I [the physician] counsel any man to do so.” The ancient oath defends the belief held by many: the lack of ethics in the practice of assisted suicide.

 

As more states consider the possibility of adopting the practice, I think that medical professionals should re-evaluate the decision to take part in assisted suicide, given that they would be breaking the oath they swore to uphold when becoming a physician.

Despite the unethical nature of the practice, I realize that many people suffer daily from incurable and unbearable diseases that gradually diminish their quality of life. However, the belief that giving someone the ability to choose when his or her life ends is morally questionable. Although the argument can be made that the lethal dose of medication is only accessible to patients of full mental capacity, who are capable of making medical decisions independently, the doubt remains as to whether giving patients this power, will create the risk of them potentially abusing it. Additionally, there is the concern that terminally ill patients may be pressured to end their lives, in an effort to reduce the cost and effort involved in their families caring for individuals suffering from life-ending illnesses.

By enabling patients who are suffering to choose when they die, we are essentially allowing these patients to “play God” and determine their time to pass. I find the concept of having such control to be extremely unsettling, and I find myself growing increasingly troubled by the potential growth of this practice.

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