Term Paper: Death: Suicide, Euthanasia

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[. . .] The is also the consideration of impact this practice will have on society and the way society may devalue life when it becomes a commodity that can be taken rather than cherished at all costs. The appearance of control and dignity may also be misleading, as the pain caused to those left behind may be immense, especially if they have strong religious beliefs. The argument against the use of euthanasia or assisted suicide used by the Pope was that these people are at their weakest at the point before death, and that in religious terms this, along with abortion, was a "slaughter of the innocents" (Pope John Paul II in a letter to the world's bishops). This letter also raised concerns regarding the overall morals of a world which would allow murder, and the religious problems for those who were strong believers on the consequences in any after life of their suicide, which is seen by the church as a sin (Pope John Paul II, 1991).

There is also the possibility that an individual may be making a decision which they would have regretted if they had lived (Wineberg, 2000). In Oregon where assisted suicide is legal the act that facilitates this specifies that the individual is of a sound state of mind and capable of their own decisions, however this is not always possible to assume is the case. Where a patient has the prescription just in case, as has been indicated by the studies, there may be an additional temptation to take the medication on the spur of the moment, without sufficient thought or consideration.

There is also the possibility of psychiatric illness that has not been detected (Conwell et al., 1999). Two influences may be apparent here; the first being the doctors who are in the front line to prescribe the lethal drugs are not the best equipped to make psychiatric evaluations or diagnosis, additionally when suicide figures are considered a minimum of 90% die whilst they are suffering from some form of psychiatric illness, and this figure does not vary with the age of the patient (Conwell et al., 1991). Therefore it is just as true in the elderly as the young (Conwell et al., 1991). This does not mean that rational suicides do not exist, just that they are very rare (Callahan, 1994).

If we consider the case in Oregon to assess the impact that the legalisation has had then we can look t the first report that was produced after legalisation. This was produced in February 1999 (Wineberg, 2000). The results indicate that the law may be acting as it was intended to, allowing death with dignity to a very small number of people.

This may be due to the care with which this law was introduced, ensuring that very strict guidelines are followed and that the use of the law is closely monitored (Wineberg, 2000).

These requirements are that the patient must be expected to live less than a six-month period due to a terminal illness, that there must be three requests for the access to assisted suicide, two verbal and one in writing, furthermore that there should be a 'cooling off' period of fifteen days between the day the first verbal request and the patients ability to receive the fatal does of medication (Wineberg, 2000). There are also clauses regarding the suitable mental condition and the need for a second doctor to agree with all these conditions being met (Wineberg, 2000).

The first fourteen months of the legalisation of assisted suicide there have only been 23 people who have requested this help and have been given prescriptions for lethal drugs (Wineberg 2000). This may appear to be a surprising low figure, a factor which many commentators may find surprising is that at the day of writing the report only fifteen of these patients had gone on to use this medication to end their lives (Wineberg, 2000). This may appear to indicate that the safeguards within the legislation are working. Of the remaining eight patients, six died of their illness without ever using the medication, and two remain alive (Wineberg, 2000). This indicates that for some patients the right to choose is a determining factor, and that it is a last resort for many if they feel they cannot continue.

However, when we apply the conflict perspective to this we also see that the doctors were influenced by social conditions and circumstances. The social circumstances of the patient appear to have made a difference on the perception of the doctors, where a patient felt they were a burden the American doctors are already more likely to allow an increased use in morphine than even Dutch doctors where there is already legalised assisted suicide (Willems, 2001). A social judgement that is typical of the conflict perspective.

When we consider this we can also see how it may be seen as societies failings that lead to this type of decision. In many request where the practice is legal the reasons for the medication being requested appear to be based around two factors; the loss independent living as a result of their terminal condition or the loss of control of bodily function. The form may be dealt with by society in terms of better care and better facilities, the second may be more problematic, but is also one which may arguably overcome in many cases so that the individual may retain some dignity.

The concern must be seen as the motivation for the request for assisted suicide, not the direct motivation of the patient, but the social influences that have brought about that decision and the way in which it is a result of the inequalities of medical care and social conditions. In this respect assisted suicide is a very relevant topic when considering the conflict perspective.

Capital Punishment is one of the wonderful topics that many people within society love to discuss and call for when a person especially a child is murdered. Yet when there is no hatred within their hearts they do not wish to discuss it.

There are many strong cases for and against capital punishment. For those in favour of the argument their ideals are based upon the justice of a moral community, these require that each person has a respect for the life and liberty of others. In this way those that commit any serious and vicious crime destroys the fabric of that moral society and as a result forfeits their right of being a citizen within that community and as a result loses their right to life. This argument is based purely on the idea of love within an ideal community in which forgiveness is not an option. In this way any criminal needs to be taken out of society perhaps in a permanent way, therefore any form of just punishment is allowable.

The argument against capital punishment is based upon the administrative process that forms our society. There is a great risk in killing an innocent person or a weakness to the actual deterrent for those who fail to realize that the death penalty is final.

The cost of keeping a person on death row through many appeals costs the tax payer billions of dollars, if the person was found guilty of the crime then let them serve life imprisonment with no parole. If by chance new evidence comes to life after their death that exonerates them of the crime then they are given a posthumous pardon. However if the person is still alive and in prison then they can be released back into the community, they still have their life.

References

Conwell Yeates, MD; Caine Eric D., MD 'Rational Suicide and the Right to Die: Reality and Myth' (1991 Oct 10); The New England Journal of Medicine, pp 1100-1103

Callahan J 'The ethics of assisted suicide' (1994 November);Health and Social Work, Vol. 19, PP. 234-244.

Donchin, Anne Autonomy, interdependence, and assisted suicide: Respecting boundaries/crossing lines. Bioethics. 2000 Jul; Vol 14(3): 187-204.

Haralambos and Holborn, (2000), Sociology; Themes and Perspectives, London, Collins.

Henslin James M, (2000), Sociology: A Down-to-Earth Approach, Allyn & Bacon

Kaldjian, Lauris C (Aug, 2001), Patient-physician discussions about physician-assisted suicide. JAMA; Journal-of-the-American-Medical-Association, Vol 286(7): 788-789

Pope John Paul II, (1991 May 19), Letter of Pope John Paul II To All the World's Bishops On Combatting Abortion And Euthanasia, [online] accessed at http://listserv.american.edu/catholic/church/papal/jp.ii/jp2abort.txt

Willems Dick L.; Daniels Elisabeth R.; van der Wal Gerrit; van der Maas Paul J.; Emanuel Ezekiel J. (2000 Jan 10), Attitudes and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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