When questioning our own morality humans tend refuse to confront that question. America’s attitude towards politics is an obvious example of this. The conversations of Immigration, Abortion, and/or Animal Testing are all topics that question our morals. If these topics are brought up in everyday conversation they are often treated with annoyance and repudiation. One question that is not often brought up to annoy is the topic of assisted suicide. The topic of assisted suicide is a topic that needs to be confronted in today’s society.
Physician Assisted Death is an extraordinary issue that is difficult to talk about. I, myself found it difficult to research for this paper for two reasons. The first being that I’ve affected by suicide and numerous losses. The second was listening and watching people make this unprecedented decision of when they should die. You will find it hard to tell these select few who have decide to end their prolonged suffering they’re wrong for doing so. Personally, I was first introduced to the subject of assisted suicide through the show Grace and Frankie starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.
In the final episodes of the shows second season the audience was introduced to the vibrant and cultured Babe. You quickly discover Babe is a well-traveled and adventurous woman who has had a history of terminal illness. Babe first shares with Frankie (played by Tomlin) that she has decided she wanted to die. She makes this decision for two reasons her cancer had spread throughout to her body and because she’s simply bored. She feels like there is nothing more for her to do on earth. She’s seen and done the most fascinating things, and as a consequence she doesn’t seek anymore adventures while suffering the effects of her illness.
Babe proceeds to convince Frankie to assist her suicide. Frankie, though reluctant, believes it’s ultimately Babe’s decision to decide when she wants to die. Later in the series Babe shares her plans and reasoning with Grace (played by Fonda). After explaining herself Babe ask Grace for her assists in her suicide. Grace is everything but compliant with Babes demands. She’s outraged and demands Babe to get treatment. Babe, disappointed but determined, is unbothered and goes through with her plan. In the finale of the series Grace and Frankie come together to help Babe in her suicide.
In these few episodes Grace and Frankie almost perfectly captures a liberal opinion of the topic and its opposition. Frankie depicted as a carefree hippie who almost does nothing but showcase her open-mindedness while Grace is depicted as an uptight conservative who prides herself on her morals. It showed how both were struggling in their assistance and in their absence from the situation. Frankie was struggling with assisting babe because it was testing her already loose morals, while Grace was struggling because of her value for human life instilled on her.
Many people can relate with Grace’s because they share a basic value for human life. But when did this value become instilled upon us? Before the spread of Christianity the value of human life was a little different than our values. Civilizations before Christianity often believed that we should care for our own versus Christians who believe that human life is a trust from God. The Hippocratic school reinforced this belief. During the twelfth through fifteenth centuries, it culminated in the near unanimity of medical opinion in opposing euthanasia.
Before this the Ancient Greeks and Romans tend to support euthanasia. In Ian Dowbiggin’s A Merciful End: The Euthanasia Movement in Modern America Dowbiggin said “Many ancient Greeks and Romans had no cogently defined belief in the inherent value of individual human life, and pagan physicians likely performed frequent abortions as well as both voluntary and involuntary mercy killings. ” Even when the Hippocratic oath prohibited doctors from giving a deadly drug to anybody few physicians followed the oath faithfully.
Many supported voluntary death as opposed to prolonged suffering and physicians complied by often giving their patients the poisons they requested. However during the Middle Ages Christians and Jews tend to oppose euthanasia. Jewish and Christian thinkers have opposed suicide as inconsistent with the human good with responsibilities to God. When the 13th Century came around Thomas Aquinas set the paramount belief that suicide is unacceptable in the eyes of God. (Left: Saint Thomas Aquinas, an Italian Dominican friar, Catholic priest, and Doctor of the Church. Aquinas condemn suicide as wrong because it violates God’s authority over life, which is God’s gift. During the 17th common law prohibits suicide in the American Colonies.
This includes assisting suicide. The legislators of Rhode Island, declared, in 1647, that “[s]elf murder is by all agreed to be the most unnatural, and it is by this present Assembly declared, to be that, wherein he that doth it, kills himself out of a premeditated hatred against his own life or other humor… his goods and chattels are the king’s custom. ”
Transitioning into the Renaissance and Reformation period, writers challenged the church. Michael Manning, MD said in Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide: Killing or Caring? : “No serious discussion of euthanasia was even possible in Christian Europe until the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. Suddenly, writers assaulted the church’s authoritative teaching on all matters, including euthanasia and suicide… While writers challenged the authority of the church with regard to ethical matters, there was no real widespread interest in the issues of euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide during that time.
In 1828 the first Us statute outlawing assisted suicide enacted in New York. Many states soon followed New York’s example. A New York commission led by Dudley Field drafted a criminal code that prohibited ‘aiding’ a suicide and, specifically, ‘furnish[ing] another person with any deadly weapon or poisonous drug, knowing that such person intends to use such weapon or drug in taking his own life’ By 1868 it was a crime in the majority of states to assist in suicide.
However, in 1870 Samuel Williams began to publicly advocate the use of morphine and other drugs for euthanasia. An important milestone in the euthanasia debate was the isolation of morphine in the nineteenth century and its widespread use as a pain reliever. When the practice of these drugs had become reasonably well established individuals started to advocate for the use of them to not only to alleviate terminal pain, but to intentionally end a patient’s life. One of the advocates for this was Samuel Williams.
Williams’ euthanasia proposal received serious attention in the medical journals and at scientific meetings. Still, most physicians held the view that pain medication could be administered to alleviate pain. In 1885 the Journal of the American Medical Association attacks Samuel Williams’ euthanasia proposal as an attempt to make “the physician don the robes of an executioner. ” Around the same period of time John Stuart Mill finished and published On Liberty. In this work J. S. Mill championed individual freedom of choice.
He also developed the framework of our modern political morality. In this, his most famous work, he says “Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign. ” When exploring the complex issue of assisted suicide this crucial to understand to understanding who has the right to die. When asking who should have the right to decide when to die words like dignity venture out of people dialogue. I view these words as important to the subject of assisted suicide, for it frames the way we think about the question of doctor assisted suicide.