Should people with terminal illnesses who want to die be able to have a doctor help them commit suicide? The debate regarding a proper and ethical answer to this question has continued for decades (Svenson & Behuniak, 2002) and it is expected that it will continue for decades more (Jeffrey, 2008; Birnbacher & Dahl, 2008).
Truog (2008) defines physician-assisted suicide (PAS) as the practice, by a physician, of assisting a patient to voluntarily take his or her own life. Typically, this involves providing the patient with a prescription as the means for death. This paper provides a general overview of PAS focusing on the general nature of the debate, the history of the practice, PAS as an aging policy, the key actors in the PAS debate, policy changes that have taken place with respect to the practice, and the status of the issue.
As noted by Kopelman and de Ville (2001), the nature of the debate over physician-assisted suicide is complex. However, the arguments both for and against PAS can be boiled down to a few key points. Those in favor of PAS make their cases based on arguments involving a person's need (both legal and ethical) for ego autonomy as an important component of dignity. The proponents of physician-assisted suicide also cite the need to end patient suffering. Further, the arguments in favor of PAS also address the fear that life can now be technologically extended to the point where it has lost all meaning and note that PAS empowers an individual to prevent the loss of ego autonomy, needless suffering and other negatives from happening to terminal patients.
On the other hand, Kopelman and de Ville (2001) report that those who oppose PAS cite the ethic of physicians 'doing no harm' and the violation of this entailed by PAS. Opponents also raise concerns about a slippery slope and often cite the disasters that have occurred in The Netherlands use of euthanasia and physician assisted suicide as examples ...