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The Dartmouth
June 17, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Should doctor-assisted suicide be legal? Yes

Why do we so fear doctor-assisted suicide? In fact, why do we fear suicide at all? In the modern world where liberalism is praised as the ideal philosophy -- where everyone has a right to pursue the lifestyle that one wants -- why can't one choose death? And of course, they can; if someone wants to commit suicide, one can but often only in messy, "unsafe" ways (of course, since death is the ultimate goal, unsafe in this context means failing to succeed).

While I do understand the religious argument against suicide (i.e. that life is given to us by God and therefore it is sacred and cannot be abused by violent acts against the self), not everyone holds these same religious views, and to press these views on others is discriminatory and unjust. If one wishes to end one's life, shouldn't one be allowed to do so?

Yet that is not an issue. Whether or not we, as a society, agree that suicide is acceptable, people will continue to choose to do it if they decide to. The issue that needs to be confronted is that of doctor-assisted suicide, and this brings in a whole different issue -- that of fear of corruption.

For me, the strongest argument against assisted suicide is "the Soylent Green" argument. In this classic film about an overpopulated world, citizens are encouraged to receive euthanasia treatment if they no longer want to live. However, what we soon discover is that the recipients' bodies are being used to make food -- specifically, Soylent Green. While nothing this drastic would probably happen today in our affluent society, what could happen is the abuse of donated tissues and organs in order to benefit the rich.

According to an April 17 article in the Boston Globe, in California, human remains are currently being "processed into medical products that generate hundreds of millions of dollars." While some of the salvaged organs save lives, others are used for cosmetic purposes -- for example, using cadaver skin to "puff up lips or smooth out wrinkles."

Hence, I can't say that I'd really be in favor of institutionalizing doctor-assisted suicide tomorrow because there are a lot of corrupt doctors out there who'd probably be willing to make a fast buck on a warm corpse. But, on the other side, isn't it our right to decide when our life becomes unbearable, especially, if we suffer from a terminal disease? If I'm considering ending my life, I want a safe, painless means to do so, and moreover, I want a rational discussion with a trained professional to help me weigh all my options (including alternatives to suicide, like counseling or drug therapy).

By having trained euthanasianists, who are extensively trained both in medicine and psychological counseling and are not allowed to profit in ANY way from patients (and the prosecution of any that do), we could not only help those, who have come to the decision to end their lives, to end them cleanly and painlessly, but we could give a forum to many who otherwise would have just gone and done it without thorough consideration.

In other words, by institutionalizing suicide, and thus removing its highly stigmatized image, people contemplating it would be more willing to actively enter discussion about suicide and their underlying reasons. And since many of these discussions would be with trained professionals, these professionals could offer counseling and other alternatives. By acting as outlets to unbearable emotional and physical pain, euthanasianists would help prevent suicide, not just facilitate it.

The big sticking point of course is making the entire process well regulated. Legislation would need to be passed. Large review boards, trained in ethics, would have to supervise the euthanasianists. Euthanasianists would need intense training in medicine, psychology and ethics and all consultations would need to be closely monitored. The goal would be to objectively discuss with patients all of the options and if, eventually, suicide is chosen, and the euthanasianist agrees that this is a positive conclusion, then he can discuss the means to finalize this decision.

Of course, I'm not encouraging suicide. Life is a sacred and wonderful gift and should be treated as such. However, ultimately, the choice is in the hands of individuals. We, as the public, can either choose to continue viewing suicide as a taboo, hiding it from our view and feigning shock and terror when someone kills himself, or we can acknowledge suicide as something that many, many people consider and de-stigmatize these thoughts and feelings, so that suicidal individuals will be willing to talk with professionals, and through this, possibly find more value in living than in dying.