The majority of Americans support euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide but some have a certain attitude towards it. Current events affected public opinion on end-of-life decisions. But, Americans have historically supported the right to end one’s life when one’s perceived quality of life has dramatically decreased.
Attitudes toward Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide
This article gives details about Americans’ attitudes toward euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. It examines the consequences for social workers who serve clients facing end-of-life decisions.
First of all, we have to know the definition of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. Then we can understand Americans’ attitudes toward euthanasia.
What are euthanasia and assisted suicide?
Euthanasia. A doctor ends a person’s life painlessly if the patient and their family consent.
Assisted suicide. Assisted suicide is when a doctor helps a patient commit suicide on their own request.
Types of euthanasia
Here are the types of euthanasia:
- Voluntary. When the patient consent to euthanasia. In Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, and the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington, voluntary euthanasia is officially legal.
- Non-voluntary. When euthanasia is conducted on an individual who is unable to consent due to their current health condition. It is referred to as non-voluntary euthanasia. Another appropriate person decides on behalf of the patient in this case.
- Involuntary. When euthanasia is conducted on someone who is capable of providing informed consent but does not, either because they do not want to die or because they were not asked. This is referred to as murder because it is often done against the patient’s will.
There are two types of euthanasia procedures:
When life-sustaining treatments are withheld, this is referred to as passive euthanasia. The definitions are unclear. If a doctor prescribes increasing doses of strong painkillers, such as opioids, the patient may gradually become toxic. Some may argue that this is euthanasia by passive means. On the other hand, others say that this is not euthanasia because no life is being taken.
Active euthanasia happens when a person, whether the patient or anyone else, uses lethal substances or forces to end a patient’s life. Active euthanasia is more controversial. And theological, moral, ethical, and humane arguments come to life here.
What is assisted suicide?
There are many common interpretations and definitions of assisted suicide.
One is intentionally helping someone in committing suicide by supplying medications for self-administration at their voluntary and competent request. Some definitions include the word to reduce intractable (constant, unstoppable) suffering.
The role of palliative care
People with cancer and other life-threatening, chronic illnesses will also receive palliative treatment. This is because pain is the most visible sign of distress and constant suffering. Doctors often prescribe opioids to treat pain and other symptoms.
Opioids’ side effects include drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, and constipation. They are also potentially addictive. A drug overdose is life-threatening.
Americans’ Attitudes toward Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide
Since the early 1800s, euthanasia has been a point of controversy in America and other nations.
In 1828, the state of New York approved the first anti-euthanasia law in the United States. Other states eventually followed suit.
In America, a euthanasia society was established in 1938 to support assisted suicide. In Switzerland, physician-assisted suicide became legal in 1937. During the 1960s, there was an increase in demand for a right-to-die approach to euthanasia.
In 2002, the Netherlands decriminalized doctor-assisted suicide and reduced some restrictions. In Belgium, doctor-assisted suicide was legalized in 2002.
Formal ethics committees now operate in hospitals, nursing homes, and hospitals in the United States. These were made legal in California in 1977, and other states soon followed suit. A living will express a person’s wishes for medical treatment if they cannot make their own decisions.
The Supreme Court permitted the use of non-active euthanasia in 1990. The Death with Dignity Act, passed by Oregon voters in 1994, allowed physicians to assist terminal patients who were not expected to live more than six months.
In 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court approved such legislation. And Texas legalized non-active euthanasia in 1999. Terri Schiavo suffered a cardiac arrest in 1990 and spent 15 years in a vegetative state. Then her husband requested to allow her to die. This provoked controversy in Florida and throughout the Americas. Over the past several years, the case involved numerous decisions, appeals, motions, petitions, and court hearings before disconnecting Schiavo’s life support was reached in 2005.
The Florida Legislature, the United States Congress, and President George W. Bush all played a part.
The Death with Dignity Act was approved by 57.91 percent of Washington State voters in 2008. And it became law in 2009.
There are many reasons for and against euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.
- Arguments for euthanasia
- Freedom of choice. Advocates contend that the patient should have the ability to make their own decision.
- Quality of life. Only the patient really understands how they are feeling. Also, only they know how the physical and emotional suffering of sickness affects their quality of life.
- Dignity. Every person should be able to die with dignity.
- Witnesses. Many people who see others die slowly believe that we should legalize assisted death.
- Resources. It makes more sense to devote highly skilled personnel, supplies, hospital beds, and medications to life-saving care for those who want to survive rather than those who don’t.
- Humane. Allowing a person suffering from intractable suffering to choose to end their suffering is more humane.
- Loved ones. It can help to alleviate loved ones’ grief and suffering.
We already do it. We see putting a beloved pet to sleep as an act of kindness if it is suffering inevitably. Why should we deny humans this kindness?
- Arguments against euthanasia
- The doctor’s role. Doctors may unwill to compromise their professional positions, especially in light of the Hippocratic Oath.
- Moral and religious arguments. Several religions consider euthanasia a form of murder and, therefore, morally unacceptable. Suicide is “illegal” in some religions. There is a moral claim that euthanasia would weaken society’s respect for the sanctity of life.
- Guilt. Patients may feel pressure to give consent because they think they are a burden on resources. They may believe that their family is under too much financial, emotional, and mental stress. And if the government pays for treatment, there’s a chance that hospital staff may financially have the motivation to encourage euthanasia consent.
- Mental illness. A person suffering from depression is more likely to request assisted suicide. This makes the decision more difficult.
- Slippery slope. There’s a chance that physician-assisted suicide will start with terminally ill patients who want to die because they’re suffering too much. But then it may begin to include others.
- Possible recovery. Occasionally, against all odds, a patient recovers. The diagnosis may be wrong.
- Palliative care. Good palliative care reduces the need for euthanasia.
- Regulation. We can not properly monitor euthanasia.
The Bottom Line
In countries where euthanasia or assisted suicide are legal, they account for between 0.3 and 4.6 percent of all deaths. And cancer is responsible for more than 70% of all deaths. Per year, less than 1% of physicians in Oregon and Washington write prescriptions to help suicide.