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The Ethics of Ending a Life

Updated: Oct 14, 2023

By Amie Ahn and Ariel Lee Sept. 28, 2023


Ever since physician-assisted suicide (PAS) was legalized in several states and European countries, there has been controversy surrounding the program’s ethics. While PAS is often confused with palliative sedation, they differ significantly. The latter solely relieves refractory symptoms when the patient is extremely close to death, while the former terminates a patient’s life.


Kayla Choi art

Traditionally, PAS requires patients to be 18 years or older, be capable of giving consent and have a terminal disease resulting in death within six months. However, Canada plans to enact a new PAS program that expands these requirements. Starting March 2024, PAS will also become available to patients with certain mental illnesses, such as some forms of dementia and depression that come as side effects of physical illnesses.


This decision has been met with backlash; its opponents argue that offering suicide as a solution to mental health disorders takes away from focusing on providing resources for these patients to heal. Instead of addressing the root cause, it shifts responsibility from society and healthcare systems to the individuals themselves, effectively stigmatizing mental health and making it a solitary burden. The critics of Canada’s PAS program also argue that it undermines the doctor’s role of being a healer by violating the Hippocratic Oath, which states that healthcare providers shall never knowingly harm a patient. Additionally, they criticize the potential for PAS’s overuse without thorough consideration of alternatives.


However, Canada’s PAS program can still be a reliable way to provide death as an option as long as mental health support systems are sufficiently provided. The process avoids unnecessary physiological pain for the subject but the effects on the patient’s family cannot be underestimated. Still, PAS could be a safe idea if protective measures are taken. For instance, patients should always be thoroughly informed of all the options available to them, which could include experimenting with new medications or treatments.


“If I had a disease where I knew I was going to die within 6 months, I would live out the remainder of my life, but for patients who qualify for PAS, the decision should be up to them. It is the patient’s choice because the decision does not affect anyone except the person undergoing the treatment,” Junior Lucas Sepe said.

Additionally, patients with serious conditions could burden their loved ones, but PAS can relieve patients from said burden. Doctors carry the responsibility to heal patients’ suffering and their job is to help when someone is in pain, and thus should not refuse to relieve pain and burdens to loved ones. Hence, all patients who fit the requirements to apply for PAS should have the option to.


“PAS patients must undergo tests to confirm that patients are mentally fit enough to make that decision, as conditions such as depression may impair a patient’s judgment. However, PAS is valuable in the sense that it helps terminally ill patients put an end to unnecessary suffering.” Freshman Christina Flynn said.

The expansion of PAS has been met with fierce resistance. However, its proliferation is not necessarily undesirable because patients should have full authority over their own fate because they are the ones consenting to PAS. Thus, if patients are willing to undergo the treatment despite others’ ethical qualms, then they should be allowed to do what they feel is right no matter where they are in the world.


What medical practitioners must prioritize first and foremost is their patients’ autonomy; PAS is a valuable tool in ending a patient’s suffering and protecting their dignity by giving them the right to make their own choices regarding their life.


However, PAS must be given a clear, and applicable definition through strict legal conditions and safeguards to ensure it remains a safe practice and benefits patients. PAS was initially created for morally just reasons; should it become a prominent and widespread medical practice, it must only be used with great responsibility.


 

About the contributors


Ariel Lee

staff writer


Ariel Lee is a freshman at Leland High School and is a page writer for her first year in journalism. In her free time, she likes to sleep, do nothing, binge shows (kdramas), and listen to music.



Amie Ahn

staff writer


Amie Ahn is a freshman at Leland High School and is a writer for The Charger Account. During her free time, she enjoys eating, sleeping, and spending time with her friends.








Kayla Choi

artist


Kayla choi is a senior at Leland High school and an artist for Leland journalism. she likes listening to gidle, wave to earth and dpr ian :)

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