Ok, I think I have a few minutes.
So, this is a super loaded question. You’ve asked about two (very different, in my opinion) things, and people are answering as if you’ve asked only one question. So, let’s define terms:
Physician-assisted suicide (aka physician-assisted death, aid-in-dying): When a patient is allowed to take drugs (must be physicially capable of taking the drugs themself) prescribed by a doctor with the express purpose of taking their own life. This is legal (with safeguards) in Oregon, Washington, and Vermont and “not illegal” (but also not regulated) in Montana.
Active euthanasia: Doing something to speed up the dying process (administering drugs, etc). The agent is someone other than the person dying. (This is by far the most ethically problematic).
Passive euthanasia: “Letting die”, or “withholding life-sustaining measures”–this is when life-saving measures are stopped. This can include food and water (although a dying patient doesn’t experience food and water like most of the rest of us do).
Okay, you may already have known that, but a lot of people in this conversation are talking past one another, so I thought this might be helpful for everyone.
I’ve done quite a bit of research in this realm, both from a religious standpoint (my undergraduate thesis) and a philosophical/empirical one (in my graduate/published work). Most of my really helpful work is on my old computer, but OP if you’re really interested, I could dig it up for you. (In particular, I have a short paper arguing that active and passive euthanasia are not as different as they appear).
My published work examined how hospices in Oregon (which are often seen as an “alternative” to PAS) have responded to Oregon’s Death with Dignity act 10 years down the line. The answer is not very well. It’s not super relevant here, but if you’re interested let me know.
So here are some arguments against PAS (I’m going to only address PAS here, because I think that’s more the question you’re asking, but if you’re interested in my ideas about euthanasia, let me know). Also, PPs have covered the arguments FOR very well so I’m going to address (non-religious) arguments against PAS only. LMK if you’re looking for more info from a different angle.
Arguments against PAS:
1. It’s not fair. This is a super compelling argument when you really dig deep. Basically, PAS as it’s defined (the person dying must physically administer the drugs themself) allows only those patients with certain conditions the ability to use the law (and all three laws are pretty uniform). It also means that people must sometimes use the drugs before they would want to if that weren’t the case. For example, someone with Lou Gherig’s disease who is losing the ability to use their body might take the drug earlier (perhaps even want to take it outside the 6-month window, which is illegal) or risk not being able to use it at all. Basically, what this adds up to is an argument for passive (or even active) euthanasia.
2. Inaccurate. Doctors are often wrong about how long patients have to live. 6 months is arbitrary, and patients might live for years.
3. Devaluing of life. This doesn’t have to be a religious argument. The argument goes that you are basically telling terminal patients that their last days don’t have value, and therefore you might as well end it. I think the argument for compassion on the other side is really strong (and this isn’t quite the same as a typical slippery slope argument), but basically, if you allow PAS, there is the chance that you send the message to dying patients that their life is “not worth living.”
4. Similarly, you run the risk of people committing suicide because they feel like they are a burden to their loved ones. True or not, I’d feel terrible if a loved one used PAS because they felt like they were a burden to me.
5. Doctors simply shouldn’t be in the business of killing. Their oath requires that they “first do no harm” and PAS certainly isn’t “doing no harm.”
Okay, I hope that was helpful. These aren’t necessarily my own thoughts (although I find all of those arguments compelling.) I think, as Oregon has seen, a large number of patients ask for and obtain the prescription without ever using it. It’s a sense of autonomy and control when they are losing both at the end of their life. I have a hard time arguing strongly either way, and basically have the same stance as I have about abortion: I personally wouldn’t do it because I feel it is objectionable to my religious beliefs, but I’m not in the business of forcing my religious beliefs on others and believe they both should be legal (with strict guidelines).
Okay, I can’t help myself, sorry this is so long. A couple arguments FOR PAS that people haven’t mentioned:
1. Many doctors in states where PAS is illegal have admitted basically passive euthanasia (which happens all the time) out of compassion for their patients. I think PAS is a more ethically sound response to this situation, as well as being highly regulated. I think it also protects doctors.
2. I think it’s really important that the safeguards include an examination about one’s mental state. I think just having a conversation with someone can really help at the end of life, especially for those not in hospice care. I think the conversation itself can help patients, and also help caregivers to more fully address the needs of patients perhaps as an alternative to PAS.
I don’t want to out my identity on the board, but if you’re interested in seeing the published research, I can PM you a link.
Ok, I have to stop now, because this is getting a bit ridiculous, but feel free to ask questions if you have any.