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The Pros and Cons of Assisted Suicide

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Authored by K. Thor Jensen in Society
Published on 08-02-2009

Life – it is truly the greatest gift we are ever given. However, for some people suffering from chronic illnesses, that life can start to seem like more of a burden to themselves and their loved ones. Medical science is not infallible, and there are still a myriad number of conditions that we cannot reverse or cure. Some people believe that, in those situations, it is more caring and humane to allow the sick person the choice to end their lives with dignity through assisted suicide. Others argue that the taking of any life is murder, and should not be sanctioned by the law under any circumstances. In this article, I will examine the politically charged issue of assisted suicide and the arguments on both sides of it.

Historical evidence of assisted suicide dates as far back as the Roman Empire, where wounded warriors were given the option of dying with dignity instead of living as a drain on the State. However, as medical science progressed through the centuries, conditions that would have previously been considered incurable became more and more survivable. With the introduction of the Hippocratic Oath, the pledge sworn by every doctor to do no harm to their patient, assisted suicide became less and less prevalent. However, in the late 20th century, there was a new boom of interest in the practice due to the efforts of Dr. Jack Kevorkian and other proponents of the “Right To Die” movement. As of this writing, assisted suicide is legal under strict supervision in three of the fifty states – Washington, Oregon and Montana.

Advocates for assisted suicide usually argue that the decision to end a life should belong to the person in question, and not the state, family, or medical establishment. Many terminal illnesses can be managed for indefinite periods of time, but at the cost of the body’s functionality and often with extreme pain. Right-to-death advocates argue that, despite the Hippocratic Oath, doctors are bound to treat their patients to reduce pain and suffering, and in some cases the only way to do so is for the patient to die. Many people believe that death is superior to a slow decline – as Neil Young said, “it’s better to burn out than to fade away.”

Opponents of the right to die take a number of rhetorical strategies in their arguments. The most potent is the conviction that somebody who wishes to die is, by definition, not in their right mind – suicidal thoughts are in most states grounds for involuntary admittance to a mental hospital for observation. Somebody who is judged insane by those standards could not make an informed decision to end their own life. The second argument is the same one that often rebuts defenders of the death penalty – the world is an ever-changing place, and something that seemed an unavoidable eventuality one day can be gone the next. The sheer number of diseases that human progress has eradicated is staggering, and science is making great leaps every day. To give up before even having the chance to take advantage of them is self-defeating.

Whatever your stand on assisted suicide is, it remains one of the most heatedly debated issues in the medical and legal community.

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