Physician Assisted Suicide and The Art of Care

In an age of managed care, rationing of care, and technological care, there is The Art of Care. We live in a society that has been given various choices to “self-determine” one’s destiny in dying as one has been able to “self-determine” one’s destiny in life itself. We have medicines and technological capabilities, and areas of the country allowing us to hasten or postpone one’s dying. The purpose of this position paper is to outline the legal, ethical, religious, and philosophical ramifications involved in Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) and how affects of such decisions effect those connected to this issue.

The pros for PAS are:

· People should have the right to die with dignity

· People should have the right to die with their senses intact

· People should have the right to die free of pain

· People should have the right to take charge of futile care

The cons for PAS are:

· Slippery-slope effect, or acceptable and unacceptable euthanasia

· No policy is able to effectively govern the scope of the right to die

· True wishes are hard to discern due to communication challenges

· Playing God

I am simply giving an overview, and not, a detailed analysis on this issue. My intent is to surface the issues in PAS and move toward a philosophy of care that can minimize people’s fear of death by the utilization of a type of care = The Art of Care. The Art of Care will help people gain inner strength that can enable him or her to cope with the external losses happening to their body. At the end of this paper, I hope to outline practical ways people can help terminal patients cope with a dying body from a place inside them that remains steadfast – their soul.

It was Karl Barth who said that “it is for God and God alone to make an end to human life” and that God gives life to us “as an inalienable loan.” It is my belief that we are given meaning and hope in all life situations. This instinct to survive and find value in all of our existence leads me to trust that there is much to learn in all phases of our life. Our ability to trust our Creator’s divine guidance and plan to make us more soul than body at the end of life is just as important as other aspects of living as well. We may do well to trust more and control less. It appears that maturity teaches us all to let go and follow a path inside us that does not always make sense to us externally. As we do, we begin to follow insight. To see from within what cannot be seen from without is our soul’s longing to be known and to surface in our lives.

In On Liberty, John Stuart Mill cautions, “A person should be free to do as he likes in his own concerns, but ought NOT to be free to do as he likes in acting for another, under the pretext that the affairs of the other are his own affairs. Autonomy is so important to us that science, as well as religious communities strive to honor and respect it. For within autonomy is the ability for one to discern for him or herself one’s needs, values, and destiny. This is a movement into the art of care (science and religion) can work together in forging a healing response on the level of soul when physical cure is no longer possible.

On the other side of this issue, it is evident that the Oregon ’s Death with Dignity Act has had its impact on America . Some people want this service available even if it is not chosen by a great number of people. The Oregon ’s Death with Dignity Act has been used very sparingly and a slippery slope does not appear to be in the present forefront. “In 2001, twenty-one Oregonians chose to end their lives by ingesting a lethal dose of medication prescribed by a physician, accounting for 0.33% of the 6,365 Oregon deaths from similar diseases. The number of Oregonians opting for physician-assisted suicide has remained fairly stable, ranging from sixteen in both 1998, the first year the law was in effect, to twenty-seven in both 1999 and 2000. Clearly, there is no landslide in the making.”

It seems then, that people still want to have some sort of control in their dying and autonomy remains prevalent throughout the issue with PAS. This strong need to determine one’s path in the face of suffering offers us hope, faith, and love in a sense of the self not easily defined without losing the grandeur of a trust within oneself to be led by the same power that brought our lives into being. It is here that we turn to the art of care to help us when curative care no longer has any answers. Here, we begin where we end, in that we trust in the very wisdom that has created us.

Samuel Oliver, author of, “What the Dying Teach Us: Lessons on Living”
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