In 1997, Oregon became the first U.S. state to legalize assisted suicide, followed by California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, Washington D.C., and New Jersey. The law allows for terminally ill, mentally competent patients with less than six months to live to request a prescription for life-ending medication. Although assisted suicide has already been a controversial topic throughout the past years, the new tide of laws that are enacting it is causing more trouble than ever.
Assisted suicide is often described as physician-assisted suicide, performed by the doctor to help someone end their life. This individual is likely to have experienced persistent suffering. In many cases, doctors will provide him/her with a drug they can take to end their life. For example, a lethal dose of opioids may be prescribed. “The main difference between euthanasia and assisted suicide is who performs the final, fatal act,” stated Richard Huxtable, professor of medical ethics and law at the University of Bristol. “Euthanasia refers to active steps taken to end someone’s life to stop their suffering and the ‘final deed’ is undertaken by someone other than the individual, for example, a doctor. If the person concerned has requested this, it would fall under the term “voluntary euthanasia”.
The 2017 Regional Euthanasia Review Committee stated that there were 6,585 cases of voluntary euthanasia or assisted suicide in the Netherlands – 4.4% of the total number of deaths. About 96% of cases involved euthanasia and the largest proportion of cases involved people with cancer. Moreover, it is legal for minors over the age of 12 to seek euthanasia or assisted suicide in the Netherlands, under certain conditions. However, not everyone is content with the law on assisted suicide, as it has caused disputes around the world as a matter of an ethical issue as well.
Euthanasia and assisted suicide have proved quarrelsome among doctors. Some argue that support for such ideas goes against the commitment to “do no harm”. “Some health professionals are familiar with the care of dying patients and with what palliative care can do – so they may have a feeling that assisted dying isn’t always necessary,” said Dominic Wilkinson, professor of medical ethics at the University of Oxford. Last July, after many years of opposing assisted suicide, the Royal College of Physicians shifted its stance to display neutral position on the topic following a poll of 7,000 UK hospital doctors in which 43.4% opposed allowing assisted dying while 31.6% supported it. Although this controversial debate on assisted suicide caused commotion and uproars, only time will tell what effect the legalization of assisted suicide will bring upon society.