The issues with assisted suicide 

Assisted suicide, also known as euthanasia, refers to the medical process of painlessly killing a patient undergoing a terminal or chronic illness. The practice is controversial, with use seen in cases where pain seems never-ending and extreme. Photo by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash.

As time progresses, we encounter new and consistently controversial ideas on the frontier on modern ethics, one of these being assisted suicide. 

Canada has been pushing for euthanasia laws, challenging this new frontier of morality. Adults are able to get physician-assisted suicide or direct euthanasia for not only terminal disease. Over 10,000 Canadians ended their lives via assisted suicide, comprising 3% of deaths in Canada. In the United States, however, assisted suicide is not as pervasive and remains unpopular. Though some forms of end-of-life measure exist in some states, every state court does not recognize “aid in dying” as a fundamental right. New York in 2017 ruled against assisted suicide and affirmed the “well-established distinction between refusing life-sustaining treatment and assisted suicide.” 

Most significantly in Canada, euthanasia will be allowed for mental health conditions in March 2023 with the consideration of euthanasia for mental health conditions for minors considered mature. The introduction of assisted suicide in Canada has been lacking in success, with reports of health care workers promoting euthanasia to patients who are financially stressed by their conditions.  

We now face answering the questions on the relationship between personal autonomy and one’s own life, especially in cases of terminal and agonizing illness. Though it is not hard to see that assisted-suicide may be reasonable and even a noble method of end-of-life care in cases of terminal illness and agonizing pain, we also face a more grim side of this issue. In the modern advent of mental health treatment, using euthanasia becomes considered as a treatment option.  

Euthanasia may, in effect, only be a morbid solution to medical problems that lie outside of pure medical solutions. Those who seek this final treatment without a terminal illness or an uncurable, aggravating disease are being failed by the medical system. Furthermore, why should those who desire their own death have access to assisted suicide? Are they of sound mind? The answers to these questions are not so clear.   

There are concerns over if euthanasia promotes eugenics and treats the disabled and elderly as disposable, which Pope Francis argues against (without necessarily invoking Christian arguments against euthanasia, of course). 

In the progressive and freedom-oriented world we live in, we are infatuated with the ideas of free choice and self-determination which may even be argued to be the core tenants of modern society. But when we are pushed into misery and suffering, through financial stress or external factors leading to mental turmoil, it brings into question whether we are still accessing our free will.  

Sheena Iyengar, Professor at Columbia Business School, shares her thoughts on the topic: “Actively choosing to die — leaving no part of it to chance or other forces —  strikes us as not only devaluing life but devaluing death and devaluing choice. In order to have a serious conversation about assisted suicide, we may need to accept that sometimes choice, death and the choice of death don’t lead to or reveal anything greater. I don’t know if we’re ready for that.” 

Euthanasia programs still remain controversial, but it will not be unexpected to see this issue to become more pervasive and part of the usual cycle of ethical debates we gripe with daily. Especially as society progresses and continues to shake off old stigmas. We must consider new ideas that are historically unprecedented, either good or bad, and remain ethically vigilant.  

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