Euthanasia and physician assisted-suicide is the intentional killing by an act or some form of omission of a dependent human being for his or her alleged benefit. The difference between euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide depends on the final act causing death. If a third party administers the cause of death it is euthanasia. In contrast, if the person who dies performs the final act, it is assisted suicide. An example of euthanasia would be if a medical professional administered a lethal injection. Someone who voluntarily takes an overdose of a medication provided by a medical professional would be committing assisted suicide.
This important and controversial public policy debate will most likely occur in Maryland sometime in the future. Such a debate will affect all of us on many social levels including our personal and family relationships and our relationship with medical professionals. There would also be the proverbial ‘slippery slope’ concept whereas society begins to establish criteria for who would be eligible for euthanasia or an assisted suicide and why.
People are living longer as modern-day medicine now treats killers of the past such as pneumonia, influenza and childbirth significantly extending the average life span for men and women. Life support systems can keep a person, who may be brain dead, to continue breathing while being fed and hydrated. Is considering euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide even needed? The law already allows patients or their legally appointed surrogates to withhold or stop treatments even if doing so moves the patient closer to death. Another alternative is the use of hospice. One of the objectives of hospice is to manage pain many times to the point of causing death. If you administer enough morphine frequently enough in an effort to manage the patient’s pain the capacity for breathing diminishes thus causing death.
The public policy debate about euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide will be a social issue important to all of us. When it does appear before the Maryland legislature being informed and educated about the pros and cons will be useful before the media and lobbyists begin to sway opinion. It is important to understand that both euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are not about the right to die or death with dignity. Both are about giving someone else the right to kill as both need and would legally allow another person to participate in causing death.