Thursday, 7 May 2009

Assisted Suicide

Assisted suicide is seen with justification, as the first step towards euthanasia. It is suggested by the supporters of euthanasia that both doctors and carers are regularly dealing with the intractable symptoms of seriously or terminally ill patients in this way, making available the means of self-destruction, but allowing the person concerned to take the definitive action which is required to end life. They call for an end to the 'hypocrisy' of this approach.

However, it is striking that in many instances of distressing and painful illness, a supply of medication which would be entirely sufficient to end life is left in the full control of the patietn with instructions for safe self-medication and in only a few cases is this trust manifestly abused. Nor is it often abused when suich instructions are given to the principal carer. It is doubtful whether the legal sanction by itself is enough to totally inhibit such action, but legalisation of physician assisted suicide would carry the same problems as the legalisation of euthanasia of any nature - it would loosen the ethical basis of much medical practice.

Legalisation of a defence of assisted suicide by relatives, carers or anyone else would be even more unsafe and would expose the caring situation to even greater pressures of a very serious nature.

Suicide and assisted suicide are neither a safe nor a satisfactory answer to the relief of a distressing illness. Thise who do promote such legislation make much of the anomaly that, while suicide has been decriminalised, assisting suicide remains a criminal act. While it may be possible to interpret the intent of the suicide - him or herself - in the light of illness or psychological disturbance, such extenuating arguments cannot be applied to tjhe person who assists. The motivation of compassion may be claimed, but many other factors mat also be playing a part, and the safeguards of the law remain appropriate.

Over the years the medical and nursing professions have steadfastly set their faces against such a change in the law, and with a few vociferous exceptions, doctors and nurses feel that they neither need it nor want it.

CreditsPhotograph by Anthea



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