Assisted suicide is the act of deliberately ending one’s life with the help of an outside person, typically with the aid of a drug overdose or by some other means that results in death. It is also called voluntary euthanasia or simply euthanasia. This view is often justified by the argument that the patient is terminally ill, experiencing a painful and inexorable decline, and might suffer without pain medication or other forms of palliative care. As a general rule, assisted suicide is legal in only a handful of countries around the world and certain states in the United States. The legality of assisted suicide has been fiercely debated throughout the world and remains so today. Assisted suicide is considered unethical and immoral, and is also a violation of the sacredness of human life, besides being seen as a form of social euthanasia.
According to a United States Court of Appeal decision, assisted suicide is unethical and immoral because it involves the deliberate act of taking innocent life. The court argues that the intentional administration of lethal doses to avoid frustrating patients’ desires is against public policy (Keown 29). On February 26, 1987, Dr. Leroy H. Fisher was found guilty of second-degree murder in the deaths of his wife and his best friend. Both had allegedly been suffering from terminal cancer and were begging him to kill them. Fisher participated in their suicides by giving them injections of potassium chloride. It was the first time that a physician was convicted of assisting another person in committing suicide (Calati 159). The Court of Appeal in the State of California held that Fisher’s position as a physician made it an invasion of the public trust to violate his Hippocratic Oath for both his patients and society. It was also a violation of the California Penal Code, which states that anyone who actively participates in the death of another is guilty of murder. Both patients had signed advance health care directives naming Fisher as their health care agent (Castelli. 229) This allowed him to legally administer lethal doses to both of them, even though they had not been able to make their wishes known.
Moreover, the National Council Against Health Fraud (NCAHF), a non-profit organization, opposes assisted suicide and euthanasia as it violates the sanctity of human life and causes a dangerous slippery slope by authorizing the practice of “social euthanasia.” They argue that if assisted suicide was allowed, then it would be a very short step from allowing doctors to prescribe lethal overdoses, by doctors who prescribe them without the patient’s consent, to permitting other practitioners to do so as well (Castelli 223). The result would be a more general and active form of euthanasia. The sanctity of human life is a basic principle in most religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism (Keown 31). Even non-religious people have a deep-seated respect for life that is derived from their general experience as sentient beings that have some experience with living. Humans are honored by these traditions as the only species on Earth that is self-aware and possesses a conscience, and they are considered to be the most advanced beings in the universe (Calati 161). To take away one’s life is to contradict what makes humans special.
In addition, the legalization of assisted suicide would open the door to “social euthanasia,” or what has been referred to as “slow euthanasia.” According to some critics, a loose public policy allowing assisted suicide might imply social acceptance of euthanasia (Keown 27). The slippery slope of legalization is the gradual creation of social and moral norms through judicial decisions and their acceptance by the general population (Borasio 983). In other words, an act that is initially considered unethical may be seen as acceptable if it has been done for a long time. The danger of the slippery slope concerning assisted suicide can be seen in history. For example, in historical times, it was considered ethical for a doctor to give a lethal injection to a patient who was suffering from cancer or another terminal disease (Keown 39). After the legalization of assisted suicide, it’s only a matter of time before patients who are not terminally ill but have chronic and incurable diseases, would start asking for an end to their suffering. This is dangerous because it leads to the wider acceptance of voluntary euthanasia for those who are not terminally ill (Calati. 170) When a society accepts one behavior, it becomes very hard to make them reverse the trend.
Assisted suicide is morally wrong because it involves the deliberate act of taking innocent life. The deliberate act of assisting another person in committing suicide goes against the sanctity of human life, which is a basic human principle, and it also violates the public trust that physicians have been entrusted with. If the legalization of assisted suicide is not stopped, then it would result in the wider acceptance of voluntary euthanasia for those who are not terminally ill. This would lead to the development and establishment of social and moral norms that support killing patients with incurable diseases, which is a slippery slope.
Borasio, Gian Domenico, Ralf J. Jox, and Claudia Gamondi. “Regulation of assisted suicide limits the number of assisted deaths.” The Lancet 393.10175 (2019): 982-983.
Calati, Raffaella, et al. “Euthanasia and assisted suicide in psychiatric patients: A systematic review of the literature.” Journal of Psychiatric Research 135 (2021): 153-173.
Castelli Dransart, Dolores Angela, et al. “A systematic review of older adults’ request for or attitude toward euthanasia or assisted-suicide.” Aging & Mental Health 25.3 (2021): 420-430.
Keown, John. “Desmond Tutu, George Carey and the legalization of euthanasia: A response.” Christian bioethics: Non-Ecumenical Studies in Medical Morality 28.1 (2022): 25-40.