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Paper Topic:

right to die: Should people have the right to decide when and how they will die

Rights to Die (Assisted Suicide


Dying has become far more complicated than ever . In the past , most people died of long illness that could not be cured by medicines . Now the new technological innovations have created choices for dying patients and their families . These choices raise basic questions about a person 's right to die peacefully and freedom from pain and agony . This issue has become very controversial with people arguing both in favor and against it . The humanitarian aspects to it , sometimes strengthen the arguments in favor of 'rights

to die ' or `assisted suicide

What is Assisted Suicide

Most people die in hospitals fighting death where the doctors and the staff make a valiant effort to save their lives . Neither the doctors nor the patients give up until the last moment . However , there are some terminal illness in which fighting for survival holds no significance In such circumstances , both the doctors and patients are aware that fight is no longer worth it and death is imminent

Such patients , who go through painful phases , want to die , as their diseases are incurable . However , their families and physicians may not fulfill their wishes citing medical , legal and moral considerations In most cases , medical professionals have discretionary powers to decide about the patients ' right to die when all efforts to sustain life become futile (Palmer , 2000 : 78

When the physicians allow the patients to die peacefully with the consent of their family members and court , this is called as `assisted suicide . In assisted suicide , a physician provides medication or other interventions to a patient with the understanding that the patient intends to use them to commit suicide (Stewart et al , 1998 : 46

Fundamental Questions

There are fundamental questions associated with the issue of assisted suicide . People tend to differ on this issue . The most important point is who decides whether a life is worth living or not . The answer is clear that only the concerned persons should have the right to decide the time of their death

Most people say that they would rather die than suffering in great pain but they are not allowed to end their lives . Hence , it is debatable whether people have the right to decide when and how they will die or it will be left to their families , doctors and the government to decide for them

Critics , who oppose assisted suicide , argue that if it is legally recognized , it might lead to the neglect of the old or disabled people and those who are emotionally ill . There are also religious and moral question on assisted suicide (Bayertz , 1996 : 71 . People in many faiths hold the belief that life and death should be left to God and human beings have no right to decide on that . There are some people , who argue that life should be cherished irrespective of the circumstances (Demy Gary , 1998 : 56 . However , these claims have been rubbished on humanitarian grounds

Legal Angles

Although there is a high debate on the issue of assisted suicide and many people advocate it , only two countries , the Netherlands and Belgium have legalized it . In the United States , there were attempts in many states to legalize 'assisted suicide . However , only the Oregon state managed to approve the "Death with Dignity Act ' The new Act permits physicians to prescribe a lethal drug dose , but not administer it . The law also made it mandatory that patients seeking assisted suicide must be mentally competent and intend to end their lives to get rid of pain and sufferings (Olevitch , 2002 : 128

The Bush Administration in the United States argues that the federal government has jurisdiction over prescription of medicines and Oregon 's law violates federal laws . It was rejected by a federal district judge In 1997 , the Supreme Court upheld assisted-suicide bans in New York and Washington State . It ruled that terminally ill patients have no legal right to get medical help in committing suicide (Dyck , 2002 : 101

In 1999 , Dr . Jack Kevorkian of Michigan was convicted of second-degree murder after he publicly acknowledged of helping 130 people commit suicide . He was sentenced to 10 to 25 years in prison for administering a fatal injection to terminally ill men (Hillyard John , 2001 : 87 Such incidents have made the debate intense and many people have now begun supporting the idea of assisted suicide in to respect the wishes of terminally ill patients

People 's Right to Die

All persons have a moral right to choose what they will do with their lives as long as they do not inflict harm on others . It includes the right to end one 's life when they choose . For most people , the right to die is a right they can easily exercise . However , there are many people who want to die , but their diseases or handicapped conditions make them unable to end their lives in a dignified manner

They languish in pain and agony . Not only they go through traumatic conditions , but also they became dependent on others , thus causing unwarranted problems to family members . When such people ask for assistance in exercising their right to die , their wishes should be respected . All individuals have an obligation to relieve the suffering of their fellow human beings . They are also expected to respect their dignity

People , who are going through painful and terminal conditions because of incurable of diseases , are incapable of functioning in a dignified manner . They may live longer , but with more suffering , degradation and deterioration (Byock , 1997 : 61 . If they still wish to live , then they should be allowed to live with proper care and medication . However , if they request for a merciful end to their pain and indignity , there is no reason why they should be prevented from doing so . It may be cruel and inhumane to turn down pleas of such helpless people

There are people who oppose all the measures permitting assisted suicide . They argue that society has moral duty to protect and preserve all lives . However , they forget that if they society cannot provide a dignified way of living to such people and cannot make them capable of doing their own work , then it has no right to prevent them from seeking assisted suicide . It makes no sense to sustain a life that has no direction and does not provide any hope or inspiration to live

If the individuals have right to commit suicide and it is not viewed as crime , then it is unfair to make assisted suicide illegal . In fact assisted suicide has more genuine reasons than suicide (Kilner , 1992 92

People , who commit suicide , escape from the challenges of life rather than facing them bravely . However , people opting for assisted suicide are incapable of facing the challenges of life . They know that their illness cannot be cured and they have to live a handicapped life forever . Hence , they request for assistance in choosing death . Such people deserve mercy and sympathy from all and their plea must be positively considered

Many people support the idea of helping people who desire a hastened death to avoid further suffering from terminal illness . However , a little progress has been made on this issue because of the stiff opposition from many quarters . Religious leaders in the Western world are vociferously opposing it . They cite the reasons of religious beliefs and social values to protest assisted suicide (Willke , 1998 : 81

There have been several opinion polls in different parts of the world and all the opinion polls suggest that a majority of people wish to see reform in law , which will give them an eventual certain death with dignity (Cohen-Almagar , 2001 : 84

Majority of people believe that laws should be made , which will give patients the rights to decide whether they want to live through medical treatment or not . If they choose to die in the prevailing circumstance they must be allowed to get assistance for that

The Terri Schiavo case in Florida had generated huge public support for assisted suicide . The case witnessed the involvement of courts non-government organizations and the government itself . Terry was not in a condition to speak or give any instructions . However , neurologists who examined her concluded that Terry is showing desire to die in to get rid of the illness that could not be cured . After many legal battles , she was finally granted the right to die (Hoffmann , 2005

In the changing scenario , most people believe that it should be up to individuals - not the government or medical professionals to determine whether to end their life or not . They also say that it is morally acceptable for people with terrible medical conditions to take their own lives if they suffer from great pain and have no chance for improvement

Many people believe that assisted suicide is ethical . It is a rational choice for a person who chooses to die to escape unbearable suffering In addition , the physician 's duty to alleviate suffering may justify the act of providing assistance with suicide . In the past , palliative care was considered better option for the terminally ill patients

Palliative care is directed at providing relief to terminally ill patients through symptom management and pain management . The main objective of the treatment is to provide comfort and better quality of life to patients as long as they are alive . However , it is very complex and expensive too (Palmer , 2000 : 83 . Not all people can afford such an expensive treatment and it will create additional burden on their family members . Hence , assisted suicide is over palliative care

Modern Techniques used for Assisted Suicide

The new technological innovations have made assisted suicide much easier and less painful . There are several ways of assisting the patients in ending their lives . The patients can choose any of these techniques to get a peaceful death . The most adopted forms of assisted suicide are DeBreather Inert Gas Techniques

1 ) DeBreather Apparatus

The system called 'DeBreather ' is a concept developed from deep-sea and scuba diving experience . It allows terminally ill patients to end their suffering by deprivation of oxygen (Cohen-Almagar , 2001 : 87 For decades , believers in assisted suicide have emphasized the need of devices for ending a painful life with inert gases or diving equipment They were concerned about the drugs like narcotics used for physician-assisted suicide . The new techniques have resolved these problems to a great extent . The DeBreather equipment has been used in several cases of assisted suicide in the United States

An average person consumes between .25 and .5 liters of oxygen every minute . If the individuals are deprived of this element for 4-5 minutes they will die from hypoxia , which is referred to oxygen starvation of the body (Cohen-Almagar , 2001 : 87

The DeBreather has a rubber facemask that fits over the nose and mouth , but not the eyes . It is held in place by two rubber straps . There is a vinyl bag , which collects the air and recycles it to the facemask for rebreathing . However , the air causes death to the person , as it does not contain oxygen (Cohen-Almagar , 2001 : 88 . DeBreather makes death quick and painless . The patients die from their own breath coming back without oxygen

2 ) Inert Gas Techniques

Inert gas technique is another easy way adopted by physicians in assisted suicide . Inert gas is neither explosive nor inflammable . It is odorless and easy to breathe . It is available in lightweight compressed gas cylinders . A plastic bag is tightened with a fastener around the patient 's neck . The bag inflates deadly gas and kills the person instantly (Hillyard John , 2001 : 121 . The inert gas suicide technique is simpler , cheaper and easier to use . The gas can be administered by injecting it into a plastic bag or via a cheap plastic medical mask


Assisted suicide always remained a controversial issue for people Fundamental rights of the individuals cannot be refused on religious or moral ground . Right to live or die should be left to individuals to decide . If committing suicide is not illegal , then it will be harsh to prevent a helpless patient from requesting assisted suicide . Suffering for a person is more than pain . Besides suffering , there are also other physical and psychological burdens . Assisted suicide may be compassionate response to unbearable suffering


Bayertz K . Sanctity of Life and Human Dignity . Dordrecht : Kluwer Academic Publishers , 1996

Byock , I . Dying Well : The Prospect for Growth at the End of Life . New York : Riverhead Books , 1997

Cohen-Almagar , Raphael . The Right to Die With Dignity : An Argument in Ethics , Medicine and Law . New Brunswick , NJ : Rutgers University Press 2001

Demy , Timothy J . and Gary

. Steward . Suicide : A Christian Response Crucial Considerations for Choosing Life . Grand Rapids : Kregel , 1998

Dyck , Arthur J . Life 's Worth : The Case Against Assisted Suicide . Grand Rapids : Eerdmans , 2002

Hoffmann , Gregg . Symbolism and the Terri Schiavo Case . ETC : A Review of General Semantics , Vol . 62 , 2005

Hillyard , Daniel and John Dombrink . Dying Right : The Death with Dignity Movement . London : Routledge , 2001

Kilner , John F . Life on the Line : Ethics , Aging , Ending Patients Lives and Allocating Vital Resources . Grand Rapids : Eerdmans , 1992

Olevitch , Barbara A . Protecting Psychiatric Patients and Others from the Assisted-Suicide Movement : Insights and Strategies . Westport , CT Praeger , 2002

Palmer , Larry I . Endings and Beginnings : Law , Medicine , and Society in Assisted Life and Death . Westport , CT : Praeger , 2000

Stewart , Gary

. et al . Basic Questions on End of Life Decisions : How Do We Know What 's Right ? Grand Rapids : Kregel , 1998

Willke , J . C , et al . Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia : Past and Present Cincinnati , OH : Hayes Publishing , 1998


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