The Ethical Dilemma of Physician-Assisted Suicide

by 人◕ ‿‿ ◕人 on June 9, 2015 - 7:17pm

Chances are, you have probably heard about this moral dilemma before. It involves a terminally ill patient on their deathbed staying alive by a thread. The patient would rather end their life prematurely, then let their illness consume them and so they ask you, the doctor to lethally inject them. What do you do?

The beliefs in conflict stem from opposing sides. On the patient’s side, they are bound to death, and merely living these last moments are painful. Due to their inevitable death they prefer to rest in peace sooner then dwell in pain. On the other side, doctor’s have a professional duty to save people’s lives, not to take them. Which side prevails?

 From a utilitarian perspective, one could follow the Greatest Happiness Principle found in Mill’s Utilitarianism. “The end would justify the means if the end were greatest happiness for the greatest number” (35, Merrill.) Therefore, a utilitarian could argue that physician-assisted suicide is morally incorrect insofar as the pain of the patient’s family would outweigh the saved pain of the patient. The family would experience greater qualitative and quantitative pain then that of the patient. The loss of a loved one is a devastating pain which would be inflicted upon an entire family. This which is a negative consequence of the physician-assisted suicide outweighs the relieved pain which is a more neutral effect.

On the other hand of utilitarianism, one could argue that assisted suicide is correct in that the quality and satisfaction of the patient’s peace (pleasure) is so great that it would indeed outbalance the pain which their family is undergoing. That being said, because the patient is undergoing a tremendous and unique pain from a terminally illness which none of their family members are dealing with, the relief would be equally as peaceful and good.

 In conclusion, a solution to this would be the latter utilitarian option, in which physician-assisted suicide would be considered morally correct.


Work Cited


John C. Merrill, “Overview: Theoretical Foundations for Media Ethics,” 3-32 in A. David Gordon, John M Kittross, John C Merrill, William Babcock, and Michael Dorsher (eds.), Controversies in Media Ethics, 3rd Edition (New York: Routledge, 2011)



Peter received a puppy named Max on his 15th birthday as a gift and a few years later, Max was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Peter was told by the vet that Max only had 5 months to live and he could either euthanize Max or let Max suffer and die painfully in due course. Peter was extremely sad and troubled because for one, he loved Max so much hence didn't want to euthanize Max, but keeping Max alive would do nothing but prolong his suffering. Peter eventually went to the vet a few days later and euthanized Max. Now, lets try to apply that same scenario to a terminally ill patient who is fighting his/her right to die peacefully with dignity in a medically controlled setting. Is it morally acceptable to deny such request? I don't think so. Frankly, I find the argument surrounding physician-assisted suicide ironic. If we have the capacity to understand the pain and suffering of an animal and willing to end such suffering, why can't we extend our mercy to a terminally ill patient? I'm aware the topic is contentious and that both side of the argument is within reasonable merit. But to me, it is a matter of individual choice and extending our mercy to our likes. In my experience, some people on the opposing side of the table would use religion to justify their argument by saying " It is a sin to end your own life, you will go to hell if you do so". However,such reasoning is entirely based on assumptions. For one, they are assuming the patient who is connect to 20 IV lines painfully waiting to die is religious. Further, they are assuming the patient in question shares the same religion as they do. Moreover, they are assuming the patient is as " God fearing" as they are. In my opinion, such argument is nothing but a pile of hypocritical bologna. Religious or not, at the end of the day it only concerns the patient who is requesting physician-assisted suicide and no one else, because we are in no position to interfere the personal choices of other people. Therefore, physician-assisted suicide is a matter of exercising individual rights and extending our mercy to our on kind.