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Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide

Pros And Cons

Perhaps the strongest argument made on behalf of legalizing euthanasia or assisted suicide is that it, like abortion, is a "choice" issue. Proponents argue that euthanasia/assisted suicide is "the ultimate civil right," and that to deprive mentally competent, terminally ill people who want to end their suffering of a peaceful "aid in dying" is to fundamentally disrespect their right to personal autonomy. Proponents also argue that legalizing euthanasia/assisted suicide is a necessary "insurance policy" that will ensure that no one dies in painful agony or unremitting suffering. Advocates contend that euthanasia/assisted suicide is little different from pain control since both use strong drugs and patients' deaths are occasionally unintentionally hastened as a side effect of the narcotics used in palliation. They also claim that doctors commonly engage in euthanasia/assisted suicide surreptitiously and promote legalization as a way to protect vulnerable patients from abuses inherent in the current "unregulated" practice. Acknowledging worries about potential abuses, advocates assure that "protective guidelines" would protect the vulnerable from wrongful death while still permitting suffering patients who are eligible for euthanasia/assisted suicide to obtain a desired, peaceful "death with dignity." Proponents also claim that opposition to euthanasia/assisted suicide is based primarily in religion and that laws prohibiting the practice are thus unconstitutional because they violate the division between church and state.

Opponents counter that legalizing euthanasia/assisted suicide would lead society down a dangerous "slippery slope" with legalized killing eventually being permitted for disabled, elderly, and depressed people, as well as for those who are not mentally competent to request to die. Protective guidelines "do not protect," opponents declare, pointing to the Dutch experience with euthanasia as "proof" of both the reality of the slippery slope and the relative meaninglessness of guidelines. Opponents also argue that the economics of modern medicine would promote euthanasia/assisted suicide as a form of health care cost containment, noting that the drugs in an assisted suicide cost only about forty dollars, while proper care for a dying patient can cost tens of thousands of dollars. They also note that forty-four million Americans do not have health insurance, and that medicine is sometimes practiced in a discriminatory manner against racial and other minorities. Thus, they argue that "the last people to receive medical treatment will be the first to receive assisted suicide." Opponents also deny that there is widespread surreptitious euthanasia practiced in clinical medicine, citing several published studies as proof, and urge that hospice care and proper medical treatment provide the morally acceptable answers to the difficulties that are sometimes associated with the process of dying.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawEuthanasia and Assisted Suicide - The Modern Euthanasia Movement, Pros And Cons, The People Vote, Jack Kevorkian, Legal Challenges