Assisted Suicide in the United States Term Paper

Assisted Suicide in the United States Term Paper

Brittany Maynard Case

The case of Brittany Maynard is a fairly textbook one when it comes to the discussions that center on doctor-assisted suicide and euthanasia in general. There are indeed cases where the death of a patient is a certainty. However, the devil is in the details as some people believe that they have to suffer out their final days while others, such as Brittany Maynard, feel that they should have at least some control over their own destiny. These people feel that they should be able to die “with dignity” and on their own terms rather than having to wait for death to come and for suffering to occur as that date approaches. However, there are some medical, legal and ethical considerations that have to be taken seriously when it comes to someone committing suicide and involving one or more other people in the same. While “death with dignity” sounds like a legitimate thing to many, there are a lot of layers to the proverbial onion when it comes to both the person wishing to die as well as the people that are involved with the process.


Quite commonly, suicide can be a very messy thing. Quite often, people use guns or other extreme means to ensure a quick and painless death. While facilitating death for most people seeking relief is seen as improper and the wrong thing to do, many people that carve out any sort of exception will do so for people that provably have terminal disorders that will end their lives in a painful way and, quite often, within a fairly short amount of time. Such was the case with 29-year-old Brittany Maynard. Diagnosed with a stage four iteration of brain cancer known as glioblastoma, her doctors told her that she had less than six months to live and those six months (or less) would be pure hell from a pain standpoint. She ended up moving to Oregon so as to take advantage of the law there that allows for doctor-assisted suicide through the use of a lethal dose of painkillers. Prior to her pre-planned death, she was encountering seizures that were more and more frequent and more and more severe. She would also have headaches, neck pain and symptoms that resembled a stroke. She was quick to say that even though she planned to take her own life, it was the cancer that was killing her and not herself at the end of the day (Scott, 2014).

Even with the fairly clear-cut nature of this case, there are many that suggest or implore that the situation is fraught with a lot of other details and issues and that the people that participated in helping Ms. Maynard die committed medial, ethical or legal lapses in judgment or behavior. When it comes to medical lapses, the commonly cited grounds for this criticism stems from a few basic things. First off is the general credo followed by all medical professionals, that being “do no harm.” However, one really has to define harm in this case. One might suggest that Brittany Maynard having to suffer with her cancer until it kills her is harm but other suggest that deliberately ending the life of a patient for any reason and/or using any method is, in many to most situations, murder (Bahan, 1997).

Indeed, the United States has had a general aversion to the idea of one person killing another on purpose. In almost all instances where it occurs, it is indeed considered murder as mentioned above. If a death occurs due to an intent-laden act but the death itself was not provably intended, it is treated as manslaughter in most cases. When it comes to the usual definition of murder, this obviously creates legal issues for the doctors or other professionals involved in assisted suicide even if there are laws (like in Oregon) that allow for them to participate without fear of prosecution. While there has generally not been any legal quibbling about taking a person that is subsisting on life support and nothing else, the case of Terri Schiavo proves that there are certainly some shades of gray. Indeed, the only real options with Schivao, euthanasia aside, were to withdraw the feeding tube (which did happen eventually) or just let her live on and on as she was, in a vegetative state. However, Ms. Maynard was lucid and chose to end her life (Printz, 2015).

When it comes to the ethical implications of assisted suicide, there are a number of dimensions and aspects that have to be taken into account. When it comes to ethics, there are two basic types. There are personal ethics and professional/medical ethics. Generally speaking, the two are not supposed to intersect because it can create problems. However, some intersections of the two are unavoidable. For example, the aforementioned Oregon law allows for doctors to be participatory in the suicide of a patient but it does not require it. For example, if a doctor is asked to help a patient commit suicide, the doctor can refuse and instead defer to a doctor that is ready and willing to help the patient under the Oregon law. Much the same is true of abortion. Per the precedent of Roe v. Wade, women are allowed to get abortions if they see fit but doctors are not universally required to perform the service. Indeed, only certain doctors are trained to do the procedure and it is very much a specialty just like endocrinology is a specialty (Huxtable, 2014).

To get back to the point, the law in Oregon and other places with assisted suicide allows for doctors to assist in suicide. However, this does not diffuse the ethical tensions that are held among the medical community and the public at large when it comes to assisted suicide. Some people do indeed hold that suicide, assisted or not, is always a sin or a crime (if not both) and the same goes for anyone that assists the person dying in the same. Even if the doctors that assist in suicides in a legal way have their conscious clear, there are plenty of other people, doctors and regular folks alike, that say that the doctors in question should not have that choice to make as it should be considered wrong and illegal for them to do so. Be that as it may, there is no universal federal standard and the federal government, for their part, has basically deferred to the states. It is not unlike the medical and recreational marijuana laws in states like Washington and Colorado. In terms of the ethical judgments across the board, both personal and professional judgments seem to vary but the overall trend seems to be pitching towards allowing people to make their own choice and this includes whether the voters elect people that support the law in the first place. Oregon is one of the few places where assisted suicide under a doctor’s care is even allowed (Huxtable, 2014).

There was not really any sort of ethical board review when it came to the death of Brittany Maynard as there was a law in place that allowed for what happened with her death to occur. However, there was certainly a review in the court of public opinion as well as with many medical ethicists around the country. For example, MSNBC ran a story about Maynard’s death in which they unequivocally say that Maynard did “nothing illegal” and that the practice was allowed for under the law. They also assert that it was an “ethical choice” to allow Maynard to do what she did. However, they also concede the two primary arguments against all of the above being true including that God and God alone should determine when we die and that allowing doctors to participate in assisted suicide will lead to abuses via some sort of slippery slope. Indeed, some (although not many, surely) might make the argument that anyone that wants to die, terminally ill or not, should have the right to do so if they want to. However, such a slippery slope has not yet manifested itself but there are those people that believe in the general idea wholeheartedly. There are others, however, that suggest suicide just makes a bad situation worse and this can include with the family and friends of the deceased. Even if a person is definitely going to die from a disease, hastening the event via manual intervention can create a bigger ethical and emotional mess for both the proposed decedent as well as the people around that person. Any honest person, for example, knew that Terri Schiavo was doomed to be in a vegetative state indefinitely. Leaving her in that state in perpetuity was surely a slow hell for her but starving her to death, which is precisely how she ended up dying, was seen as barbaric by others. Even a law along the lines of Oregon’s assisted suicide law would have been problematic given that…


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