The Controversy of Physician Assisted Suicide

The Controversy of Physician Assisted SuicideControversy of Physician Assisted Suicide

Controversial topics always spark debate from the public perspective, as well as the from various government and religious entities. The reason for such debate, is due to controversial topics containing a vast, multi-opinionated perception which often times triggers more personal opinion which inevitable leads to a subjective thought and an individual(s) to maintain a strong opinion on which side of the controversial topic they support.

One such topic is the longtime debated controversy pertaining to a person having the right to participate in physician assisted suicide. This particular controversy has been subjected to numerous debates on if the practice is ethical, or even beneficial. Some argue there is nothing wrong with physician assisted suicide, while others maintain a strong stance that nobody should have the “right to die.” Often times these arguments are strongly biased and contain numerous instances of logical fallacies.

Background of Physician Assisted Suicide

Physician assisted suicide has a unique background that has played a significant role with numerous legal and political struggles (Behuniak, 2011). In 1939 the Euthanasia Society of America was established and advocated that it was considered humane for an individual that is considered suffering to expedite their death by means of physician assisted suicide (Behuniak, 2011). This caused an immediate concern from progressives that indicated physician assisted suicide is unacceptable because the overall description and reasoning of what the Euthanasia Society of America deemed as “killing of born defectives” was humane because some “born defectives” are considered miserable and should have the right physician assisted suicide if they are incurable (Behuniak, 2011). However, the timing of the creation of the Euthanasia Society of America and their view of “painless killing” came about during World War II; consequently, resulting in some believing that physician assisted suicide may be abused and treated as a form of justification for the, at the time, Nazi Germany’s use of mass euthanasia (Behuniak, 2011).

In 1976 a new society was developed, known as The Society for the Right to Die (Behuniak, 2011). The term “mercy killings” was developed and argued that individuals who are suffering should have the right to die rather than suffer (Behuniak, 2011). The Society for the Right to Die believed it was morally ethical for an individual who is suffering to hasten the death by means of physician (Behuniak, 2011).

Since 1977 Netherlands physicians have been practicing physician assisted suicide (Dieterle, 2007). More recently in the United States, Oregon enacted the Death with Dignity Act which gives the citizens of Oregon the right to request a lethal prescription if they have been diagnosed with a terminal illness that is projected to end the individuals life within 6 month timeframe (Dieterle, 2007).

Background of Opposition

Since the notion of physician assisted suicide embarked, there have many opposing perspectives that have been debated legally and morally. The question of moral is ensued by many that it is morally wrong for anybody to participate in physician assisted suicide because of many religious beliefs indicating that suicide of any kind is wrong.

In 1996, Not Dead Yet was founded after Dr. Jack Kevorkian was acquitted of assisting two patients to death that were not terminal ill (Dieterle, 2007). Not Dead Yet shares many of the same philosophies as antiabortion groups; however, their primary arguments are that ambiguity of the distinction between those with disabilities and those that are considered terminally ill (Dieterle, 2007). Not Dead Yet argues if physician assisted suicide is enacted it will eventually cater not only to terminally ill patients, but to individuals who have severe mental disabilities (Dieterle, 2007).

Not Dead Yet also argues that individuals who are treated for mental disabilities are counseled that suicide is a negative act and should never been attempted. However, if physician assisted suicide is enacted; it will give the perception that “suicide” is okay as long as it is assisted by a physician (Dieterle, 2007).

Current Pros and Cons Debate

Some argue if the options for a person to participate in physician assisted suicide exists, it will eventually lead to the assistance being granted to anyone who volunteers for any medical or mental reason. However, with Oregon enacting the Death with Dignity Act, the requirements are stringent and require the individual that has been diagnosed as terminal with a life expectancy of six months, or less. Even then the individual must make two formal written requests fifteen days in between the first request (Dieterle, 2007). The physician must then attempt to determine if the individual is making non impaired judgment and provide feasible alternatives to assisted suicide (Dieterle, 2007).

Another opposing argument indicates patients might be persuaded by family members or insurance companies to participate in physician assisted suicide. However, Oregon has never experienced such issues and has ensured the individuals who wish to participate receive a psychiatric evaluation and be deemed that their decision is in their best interest and not the interest of another party (Dieterle, 2007).

Others argue that physician assisted suicide will increase the homicide rates in the selected areas. This has also not been deemed plausible; in fact Oregon has shown a dramatic decrease in violent crimes since enacting the Death with Dignity Act (Dieterle, 2007). The figures indicate 555.4 violent crime incidents per 100,000 residents (year 1995) to 444.4 in 2000 (Dieterle, 2007).


In the process of conducting research on an individual’s right to participate in physician assisted suicide, I discovered the articles that agreed with physician assisted suicide contained less logical fallacies than the oppositional viewpoints. An example being the logical fallacy known as the reducio ad absurdum. A reducio ad absurdum is a Latin term that literally means to reduce to absurdity, in other words, taking “the other person’s argument and showing that it leads logically to absurd consequences (Cohen, 2006). A good example of this is located in J.M. Dieterle’s article, titled “Physician Assisted Suicide: A New look at the Argument (2007). In the article, Dieterle describes how Susan Wolf, a know feminist believes if physician assisted suicide is enacted that eventually women will be subjected to more harm than men. This is a prime example of a logic fallacy because it’s absurd and provided more of an opinion than fact. Regardless of one’s personal viewpoint of physician assisted suicide, the fact remains that this issue is extremely controversial and will always be debated, regardless of what final decision is imposed.


 Behuniak, S. (2011). Death with “dignity”: The wedge that divides the disability rights movement from the right to die movement. Politics & The Life Sciences, 30(1), 17-32.

Cohen, C.(2006). Fallacies. In the essentials of philosophy and ethics. Retrieved from

Dieterle, J. (2007). Physician Assisted Suicide: A new Look at the Arguments. Bioethics, 21(3), 127-139.

Murray, E, & Klatt, B. (2001). The BS Detector Kit: Recognizing Errors of Logic.The Encyclopedia of Leadership: A Practical Guide to Popular Leadership Theories and Techniques. New York: McGraw-Hill Professional, 2001. 170-172. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 28 May 2014.







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