States Where Physician-Assissted Suicide is Allowed

Joshua Defibaugh

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In February 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada overturned a criminal ban of physician-assisted suicide. This gave the government, led by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, one year to introduce a new law or stance favorable to the issue of physician-assisted suicide.

 The political capital and the social movement was there to reach a consensus; the Canadian people wanted legislation protective of physician-assisted suicide. However, because Harper and his government were more conservative, he and his party strongly opposed the issue and did little after the overturn.

 Now, over one year later, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has introduced new legislation that would allow individuals with terminal illnesses and serious medical conditions to seek assistance with ending life on their own terms.

 There are only four states in the United States — Washington, Oregon, Vermont and California — where physician-assisted suicide is legal. There are a handful of other states — New York, Maryland, Connecticut, New Jersey — where legislation is currently under review.

 There haven’t been any substantive discussions on the issue of physician-assisted suicide from presidential candidates or during presidential debates.  Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, however, have spoken in favor of the laws. Sanders hails from Vermont, a state that is often regarded as a leader in end-of-life care.

 “I commend Oregon on this count, as well, because whether I agree with it or not or think it’s a good idea or not, the fact that Oregon is breaking new ground and providing valuable information as to what does and doesn’t work when it comes to end-of-life questions, I think, is very beneficial,” Clinton has stated.

 “I think if a human being is in a situation where they are going to see their life end in a short period of time, where they are suffering, where they choose no longer to be alive,” Sanders has said, “I think they have the right to make that decision for themselves.”

 The issue of physician-assisted suicide is not an easy subject to discuss on a national level, as kneejerk reactions are typical. Kneejerk reactions shouldn’t be typical, though. I personally believe that physician-assisted suicide should be a human right for not only terminally ill individuals, but for any person who wants to end his or her life.

 There exists a set of philosophical theories known as absurdism, which states, among other things, that ultimately life has no greater meaning other than what a human being will make of it. Absurdism also follows the idea that the more one searches for a greater meaning to life, the more meaningless it will become.
When a terminally ill individual no longer sees a meaning for their lives and want to end it, why shouldn’t they be allowed to do so?

 Imagine a doctor taking care of a patient who is suffering from late-stage cancer. According to the doctor, and other oncology experts, the prognosis — the amount of the time a patient likely has to live — is less than one year. The patient wishes to end their life before the cancer causes unbearable pain and a loss of feeling brought about by chemotherapy. Should they be allowed to do so? I argue yes. But what if the doctor argues otherwise?

 Many in the medical field draw their beliefs on issues like this from the Hippocratic oath, an oath that most doctors are required to swear to. The oath is from the classical era and acts as an ethical guideline for those working in medicine. The first clause of the oath, “I will keep them from harm and injustice,” is more important than the following clause, “I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect…”

 The doctor denying the patient’s wish to die is violating the first clause by placing the patient through pain he or she does not want to suffer through.

 Physician-assisted suicide is not an easy subject to discuss on any level nor will it be solved or made a legal right overnight. But it should be.