Source: Seattle Municipal Archives
In recent years, debates have swirled over whether or not physicians should be allowed to hasten the death of their incurable patients. Although the Hippocratic Oath forbids medical doctors from prematurely ending the lives of their patients, questions still remain over how physicians should respond to the needs and to the wants of terminally ill individuals. Although the legality and ethics surrounding assisted suicide have been pondered since antiquity, these issues were brought to the forefront in the U.S. during the early 1970s with the arrival of the pro-euthanasia movement. The goal of this movement was to increase the rights of people with terminal illnesses and to give these people more control over their destinies (Menon 1991). Since this time, physician-assisted suicide (PAS)—which Schroepfer (2008)defines as the event wherein a physician provides a competent, terminally ill patient with a prescription of lethal drugs—has become increasingly recognized as a phenomenon deserving of more attention. (more…)
A recent British court case has highlighted the emotive issue of euthanasia, or assisted suicide. Yesterday’s ruling by the House of Lords offers opportunities to not only clarify the legal position, but also places the issue firmly in the public domain. The background to the case involves the personal story of Debbie Purdy and her attempts to shed light on the criterion used by the Director of Public Prosecutions [DPP] with regard to assisted suicide.
As a multiple sclerosis sufferer, Mrs Purdy is determined that such information should be readily available, in order that an individual may make a fully informed choice regarding their own death. Thus far nobody in the UK has been prosecuted for assisting another’s suicide; however, Mrs Purdy is anxious to ensure her husband’s future is prosecution free.
Mrs Purdy has greeted yesterday’s victory as “a huge step towards a more compassionate law”, although concerns have been raised particularly in relation to the message sent out to others suffering from debilitating or terminal conditions. It has also been suggested that the removal of discretion from the legal process, “risks giving rise to perverse judgments that match the letter rather than the spirit of the law and invite reversal on appeal”. The only certainty would appear to be a renewed urgency to the debate on assisted suicide.
Tony Walter on The Sociology of Death