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					Desirei Edwards
Laws310                                                                            Edwards 1

                       Assisted Suicide: Is it Right or Wrong?

       “Human life consists in mutual service. No grief, pain, misfortune, or 'broken

heart,' is an excuse for cutting off one's life while any power of service remains. But

when all usefulness is over, when one is assured of an unavoidable and imminent death, it

is the simplest of human rights to choose a quick and easy death in place of a slow and

horrible one”(Genet). For most Americans, dying has become far more complicated than

it once was. In the past we did not contemplate on the thought or decision of when we

were able to die. Most people would simply die at home, from a terrible sickness. Or die

in a hospital, after the staff gave an immense attempt to keep us alive. Now technology

and people have created choices for dying patients and their families. Those choices

raise questions about human poise, and if we should be able to what some people say

“play God.”

       The issue at a glance is that for some people that is exactly what they want. They

are tired of the valiant effort that they give to live on. Generally people don’t want to

fight off death as long as possible. A lot of people with terminal illnesses come to a point

when their fight for life no longer seems worth it. For example in the case of Caleb

Heppner, who was diagnosed with terminal lung and bone cancer. “ Nobody wants to go

through an excruciating last few hours…when instead of being around my family, being

able to talk to them and then pass on very quietly, their mopping up blood and trying to

manage this horrible, horrible disease process”(Lahrer1). Or in the case of Warren

Hauser, who was left being reliant on technologies respirators. After he was diagnosed

with emphysema and valvular heart disease. His physician and hospice team work hard
Desirei Edwards
Laws310                                                                           Edwards 2

everyday to manage his chest pains and episodes of breathlessness. That even on one of

his good days it is hard for him to walk with a walker, bringing his oxygen canister along.

       It’s the fear of unbelievable suffering, poverty and dependence fuels the drive to

legalize assisted suicide (Byock1). But this is an actual dilemma. Studies say that pain

among terminally ill is widespread and under treated, even within high stature hospitals.

Coming across this horrible crisis, families are burdened with a decreased source of

income and the loss of a loved one. With all this in mind assisted suicide doesn’t seem

like a bad decision.

       There are a lot of fundamental questions raised when this issue comes about, I

mean who can decide whether a life is worth living or not? Should the physicians be

encumbered with this appalling decision? Or should the families of the individuals have

the authority to elucidate this issue? Numerous people say that they would rather die

than to suffer in a great deal of pain, or to be trapped in a vegetative state. Should people

have the right to decide how and when they will die?

Alzheimer's disease, AIDS, cancer, heart disease, Parkinson's disease, and euthanasia;

all in which is the purportedly cause of the terminally ill (Humphrey2). They all cause a

merciful killing for the sick. Is assisted suicide an act of kindness, a compassionate, and

sympathetic deed? Regarding to one’s wants and needs. Or is it an unlawful death and

infringement to one’s moralities? Would assisting people in death lead to people

controlling the timing and manner of their death? Or would it lead to a slippery slope of

neglect for the old?
Desirei Edwards
Laws310                                                                            Edwards 3

        There are also moral and religious questions to this issue. In many religions this

approaches a part and belief that should be left to God. It should not be the choice of

human beings. Augustine argued in the fifth century that suicide was a violation of the

sixth commandment, "You shall not murder" (Exodus 20:13). Later, Thomas Aquinas,

being catholic and believing that confession of sin must be made prior to departure from

the world to the next, taught that suicide was the most fatal of all sins because the victim

could not repent of it. It is never our place to take our own life or someone else's life.

They believe that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, in that which

you have received from God. You are not your own, you were bought at a price.

“Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). They believe that life

should be cherished not abandoned, no matter of what the circumstance. From a religious

aspect assisting suicide is morally wrong.

        Physicians continue to face this issue. The American Association opposes assisted

suicide. “For over 2,000 years, the predominant responsibility of the physician has not

been to preserve life at all cost but to serve the patient’s needs while respecting the

patient’s autonomy and dignity,” the AMA said in a legal brief. As in the case of

“Dr.Death,” who is the widely known doctor Kevorkian. Doctor Kevorkian is famous for

advocating the patient's "right to die" and assisting in the suicides of people who are

terminally ill.

        He was publicly known for “helping” one-hundred and thirty people commit

suicide during the 1990’s. In 1998 he even allowed the television broadcast 60 Minutes to

record the death of one of his patients. Thomas Youk, a 53-year-old stricken with Lou
Desirei Edwards
Laws310                                                                          Edwards 4

Gehrig's disease. He assisted him by helping him to die by lethal injection. Following

this, Kevorkian was charged with second-degree murder in 1999 and sentenced to 15 to

25 years in prison for administrating a fatal injection to a terminally ill man(Annas1). In

the early 1980’s he published an abundant amount of articles in the obscure German

journal Medicine and Law. In which he outlined his ideas on euthanasia and ethics. Dr.

Kevorkian created and built a machine using thirty dollars worth of left over parts,

scrounged from hardware stores and garage sales (Meier 1). He actually built it on his

kitchen table in his Michigan apartment. He used it to help his patients die a slow and

easy death. His first assisted suicide occurred on June 4, 1990. He helped Janet Adkins

a 54-year-old woman from Portland, Oregon commit suicide because she had

Alzheimer’s disease. Kevorkian did so in his 1968 Volkswagen van in a city somewhere

near Michigan. Dr. Kevorkian continued this throughout the 1990’s, all the way up to

1998. In most of his cases he hooked the patient up to his “suicide machine” in which he

created to aid the patient in death. The individual would have to push button that would

release drugs or chemicals that would end the individual’s life. It was indeed a form of

lethal injection, in which he called a “Mercitron.” He also used machines that would

administer a gas mask fed by a canister of carbon monoxide. Dr.Kevorkian assisted

many people in suicide. Other patients who had the pleasure of enduring this release of

pain were: Majorie Wantz , a 58-year old woman with pelvic pain, Sherry Miller, a 43-

year-old woman with multiple sclerosis, Susan Williams, a 52- year-old woman with

multiple sclerosis, Lois Hawes, a 52-year-old woman with lung and brain cancer,

Margaret Garrish a 72-year-old who had arthritis and osteoporosis, and Erika Garcellano,

a 60-year-old. Who was she who was one of Doctor Kevorkian’s first patients at his
Desirei Edwards
Laws310                                                                           Edwards 5

“suicide clinic” in a Springfield office. In conclusion Dr.Kevorkian helped over 100

people commit suicide in his life. Was this an act of murder? Or was Doctor Kevorkian

just doing what he thought was an act of good will.

       Another recent case was that of the patient Terri Schiavo. In 1990 her heart

unexpectedly stopped and she was diagnosed with brain damage. She then slipped into a

coma like state. It is said that Terri received a $ 700,000 malpractice award in the early

1990’s, and her husband Micheal Schiavo has been paying his legal fees with it. It is him

who wanted and did assist in her suicide. Michael said that Terri is brain dead and he

wants to remove her feeding tube and end her life. But her parents feel that she still

could’ve improved from her vegetative state. “She still gave us a slight smile and tracked

them with her eyes.” The husband had refused to okay antibiotics or dental work -- "Her

teeth are fine; she doesn't eat," he has said (Dowda1). He claimed that she doesn’t need

any new treatment because it would be pointless. It is her parents that fought in court

against it. Terri Schiavo died in March of 2005. After the courts ruled in favor of her

husband. She died of dehydration because he won the right of removing her feeding tube.

This in which is a worst case scenario, it dramatically affected the world, causing people

to now get living wills. The court says that the withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment has

been invariably allowed, because the patient dies from the underlying illness, not from

the active applied interference of a physician or of a chemical substance. A person who

is in a persistent vegetative state dies when a feeding tube is withdrawn, because the

patient’s condition is responsible for their inability to eat and drink. That, however, is not

the case in terminal sedation accompanied by the denial of nutrition and hydration.

Assisted suicide requires the active participation of the patient; terminal sedation,
Desirei Edwards
Laws310                                                                            Edwards 6

however, can be induced without the patient’s knowledge thus making it more difficult to

monitor and to maintain standards of procedure (Orentlicher 8).

       For the majority of people in the world assisted suicide is not a legal option, but

still we come across situations much like that of Terri Schiavo’s and Dr. Kevorkian's. In

fact there is only one nation in the world that has made assisted suicide legal. And that is

the Netherlands in 1993 the Dutch Parliament passed measures to clarify the state of

physician assisted suicide laws. Under the new law physician assisted suicide is still

punishable by up to 12 years in prison, but if the established guidelines are followed, the

practice is safely shielded by the legal system. The law requires that patients be

euthanized in accordance with the following “carefulness, four requirements.” (Russell,

781) The first requires that a request for death must be made entirely of the patient’s free

will and could not be made by family or friends. The second requirement states that the

request must be expressed repeatedly and show lasting longing for death. And finally

both the patient and doctor must regard the patient’s suffering as perpetual, unbearable,

and hopeless. The court noted, however, that suicide “has never enjoyed similar legal

protection,” and that the “two acts are widely and reasonably regarded as quite distinct.”

(Hoeffler, 1102) The court reiterated the fact that patients have throughout history,

invariably maintained the right to demand their bodies not be invaded without their

agreement. The court’s objective in a case was to make the clear distinction between the

right to refuse undesired medical treatment and the right to physician assisted suicide

(Orentlicher 5). But as it stands now, patients have the right to be sedated for the relief of
Desirei Edwards
Laws310                                                                             Edwards 7

pain, but once sedated, they would lose the right to have nutrition and hydration withheld

or withdrawn.

       I have come to a conclusion that dying does not have to be so horrifying. Pain

can always be alleviated, and a relief from it is the first priority but it is not a must. There

are other alternatives to this issue. The real problem is that patients don’t get enough

pain relief and emotional support. It is possible to always attend the dying and appreciate

their lives, instead of mourning them. Before my grandmother died in 1997 I watched

my mother massage her skin and sing to her. In those ways we can alleviate the pain and

the distress for the patients. They can also be prayed with and cared for. It is said that

“Compassion is the basis of morality.'' - Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher. All

this can make assisted suicide a thought but not an obligation. All they really need is

emotional and physical support. Although I do not overlook the choice of assisted

suicide. I believe that making the choice to legalize it will only bring additional problems

in life. It hasn’t yet become legal in the United States and look what has still come about.

As a society I think we can choose a higher road, in that we accept our conditions and

fight it out. With someone there by our side I don’t believe it will be hard.
Desirei Edwards
Laws310                                                                     Edwards 8


Annas, George J. “The Bell Tolls For a Constitutional Right to
Physician Assisted Suicide,” The New England Journal of
Medicine. 337, 1997, 1098

CNN Thursday, March 31, 2005 Posted: 10:07 AM EST (1507 GMT)CNN

Hoeffler, James M. Deathright: Culture, Medicine, Politics, and
the Right to Die Movement. Westview Press, 1994.

Humphrey Derek and Ann Wickett. The Right to Die: Understanding
Euthanasia. Harper, 1986.

Ira Byock Why Do We Make Dying So Miserable?
from The Washington Post, Wednesday, January 22, 1997

Meier, Diane E., Carol-Ann Emmons, Sylvan Wallenstein, Timothy
Quill, Sean R. Morrison, and Christine K. Cassel. “A National Survey of Physician
Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia in the United States,” The New England Journal of
Medicine. April 23, 1998.

New Testament Bible c 1995.

Orentlicher, David. “The Supreme Court and Physician Assisted
Suicide,” The New England Journal of Medicine. 337, 1997, 1236.

Russell, Ruth O. Freedom to Die: Moral and Legal Aspects of
Euthanasia. Human Sciences, rev. 1977.

Issues in Law & Medicine, Vol. 11, No. 3, Winter 1995. c. 1995 by the National Legal
Center for the Medically Dependent & Disabled, Inc.
Desirei Edwards
Laws310           Edwards 9

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