Physician Assisted Suicide
What is Physician Assisted
• According to the University of Washington
School of Medicine, “physician assisted
suicide generally refers to a practice in
which the physician provides a patient with
a lethal dose of medication, upon the
patient's request, which the patient intends
to use to end his or her own life.”
Is this the Same as Euthanasia?
• No. Euthanasia involves the physician
administering the lethal substance to the
person directly, thereby ending the
Is Physician Assisted Suicide
According to assistedsuicide.org:
“The only four places that today openly and legally,
authorize active assistance in dying of patients, are:
• Oregon (since l997, physician-assisted suicide only);
• Switzerland (1941, physician and non-physician
assisted suicide only);
• Belgium (2002, permits 'euthanasia' but does not define
• Netherlands (voluntary euthanasia and physician-
assisted suicide lawful since April 2002 but permitted by
the courts since l984).”
U.S. Supreme Court Position
• In 1997 a U.S.
Supreme Court ruling
held that Persons
who are Physically
unable to kill
themselves but want
to do so have no
Constitutional right to
end their lives.
• Method generally involves a lethal dose of
• This could include increasing the morphine a
patient receives or a combination of drugs.
• Methods of physician assisted suicide are meant
to provide a peaceful death so they do not
involve violent methods.
Dr. Jack Kevorkian
• An Atheist physician from
Pontiac, MI known as “Dr.
Death” for assisting in
suicides since 1990
• Served eight years of a
10-25 year prison
sentence for assisted
• Has not changed his
position since his release
• A 56-year old married man with five children
and no health insurance.
• After a heart attack, he is diagnosed with
stomach cancer. His heart is only operating
at 30-percent capacity. Upon surgery, it is
discovered cancer has spread to numerous
organs and lymph nodes.
• Patient is classified as terminal, with
approximately three to six months to live.
• Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy are not
• Medication for severe pain is necessary,
however is causing consistent nausea.
• The patient is unable to eat due to ulcerations
in the stomach and is fed via a feeding tube
directly into the intestines.
• Does this person’s terminal medical condition
make physician assisted suicide a morally correct
Arguments in favor of physician
assisted suicide in this situation
• Prevents the prolonged suffering of the patient
who will eventually die anyway
• The family will not have to bear the burden of
• The emotional pain of knowing that you have to
live out a long painful death can be devastating
• The quality of life is taken away through
• A peaceful death is better than a painful one
Arguments against physician
assisted suicide in this situation
• The man is still functioning mentally and
• His life is sacred because it was given by God
and therefore he doesn’t have the right to end it
• His family may experience guilt for allowing his
death to occur by his own hand instead of
• The purpose of a physician assisted suicide
contradicts the moral obligation of a physician to
Kant on Physician Assisted Suicide
• An important part of Kant’s philosophy is
that he bases morality on reason rather
• A physician assisting a patient in suicide
would not be morally right in Kant’s view
because it is being done to relive the
suffering of the patient which is a
consequence of the action.
• In Kant’s perspective of Categorical Imperative
number one you should only act in ways that can
• For this reason, physician assisted suicide is
contrary to the categorical imperative because if
it were morally right to help one suffering patient
commit suicide then it would have to be right to
help everyone commit suicide. This contradicts
everyone’s moral duty to live.
A Utilitarian on Physician Assisted
• Utilitarianism is based on the principle that if an action
benefits the group more than the individual then it is
• In this particular scenario the physician who is assisting
with the suicide is benefiting the larger group (the
patient and his family) rather than himself (the
• The patient will benefit by an end to his suffering and
the family will benefit from knowing he is no longer
suffering and they will also be relived of the financial
My Personal Opinion
• I personally believe in this situation physician assisted
suicide is morally wrong.
• I base my opinion on the Divine Command Theory
which is based on the philosophy that moral right and
wrong is based on God’s commandments rather than
human opinions or standards set by society.
• God created life and has the ability to take it away at
any time. His commandment simply states “Thou shall
• Therefore Physician assisted suicide would be contrary
to the Divine Command Theory.
Questions to Think About
• Do you believe physician assisted suicide in
this situation is morally right? Why or why not?
• Would a terminally ill patient be competent in
making a life and death decision?
• What if the patient was physically unable to
administer the lethal drug to himself correctly
and did not die but instead worsened his
condition (i.e., brain damage)?
• Is their any circumstance where physician
assisted suicide could be justified?
• Baddock, Clarence H. "Physician Assisted Suicide." Ethics in
Medicine University of Washington. University of Washington, 1998.
Web. 21 Oct. 2009.
• Humphrey, Derek. "Assisted Suicide Around the World." Assised
Suicide. 1 Mar. 2005. Web. 21 Oct. 2009.
• "Jack Kevorkian." NNDB: Tracking the entire world. Soylent
Communicatons, 2009. Web. 21 Oct. 2009. <http://www.nndb.com>.
• Maccarelli, Sarah. "Kantian Ethics and Suicide." Associated Content
- associatedcontent.com. 31 Jan. 2006. Web. 21 Oct. 2009.