In certain parts of the United States, such as Montana, Vermont, Washington and Oregon, people with advanced cancer, neurological disorders or heart disease may quality for physician-assisted suicide.

However, they may be ineligible for hospice under Medicaid and Medicare, either because they are still considered healthy or still want their terminal condition to be treated. This highlights that legalising assisted suicide may essentially be misused in the healthcare scene, and patients may not benefit significantly from it.

Why many doctors are against euthanasia

As proclaimed by the Hippocratic Oath, “I will keep [the sick] from harm and injustice. I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.”

Essentially, doctors who oppose physician-assisted suicide feel that the practice crosses an ethical line that should not be breached. They fear that any legal provision may carry the risk of misuse. Additionally, they maintain that their responsibility as doctors is not to help kill patients; rather, it is to seek solutions to make them more comfortable in the days and weeks before their death.

Patients themselves may be against euthanasia because of its impact on their treatment and care. It is crucial to note that the prohibition of physician-assisted protects vulnerable patients and the public from the power that doctors have due to their specialised skills and knowledge. Hence, aged, disabled or low-income patients worry that the legalising of physician-assisted suicide may cause doctors to see their lives as not worth living and act compassionately to end their supposed misery, which they may object to.

The impact of legalising euthanasia on healthcare

Physician-assisted suicide will change the culture of the medical profession. It corrupts the practice by enabling the tools of healing to be used for techniques of killing. By the same token, physician-assisted suicide may threaten to distort the doctor-patient relationship – It reduces patients’ trust in their doctors and doctor’s commitment to the life and health of their patients.

The option of physician-assisted suicide will also provide incentives for insurance providers and the private and public financing of healthcare. The chief point to note here is that physician-assisted suicide offers a cheap, quick “fix” in a world where healthcare resources are becoming increasingly scarce.

Why some doctors support euthanasia

Doctors who believe that physician-assisted suicide should be legalised say that terminally ill patients should be given the right to choose death over going through the torment of enduring the final stages of their illness. They maintain that it is part of keeping up with their roles as caretakers to provide the injection and pills needed for patients to carry out that choice.

The January issue of the newspaper of the American Medical Association had a commentary by a New Jersey doctor who wrote, ''In the last six months, I've had three patients ask me to terminate their lives because they were in pain and dying of terminal cancer.'' He proceeded on by saying that he felt he “should be able to do so”.

The debate on euthanasia has sparked much controversy among doctors and treads on not only medical, but also social and ethical grounds. Instead of legalising physician-assisted suicide, another possibility is to offer patients the appropriate medical care and human presence in the days before their death. For those in great physical pain, perhaps pain management and other palliative medicine can manage their symptoms effectively.

For those for whom death is imminent, fellowship and hospice care can be provided. Perhaps the real challenge is not whether euthanasia should be legalised, but rather, if healthcare institutions can ensure that quality end-of-life care is available to all. MIMS

Read more:
Should euthanasia for infants be legalised?
The patient’s right to die: Ethical concerns after the first minor in Belgium is euthanised
Terminally ill 14-year old girl gets wish granted to be cryogenically preserved