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The Notion of Physician-Assisted Suicide

In the course of medical practice, physicians are frequently forced to face the dilemma of saving one’s life when the patient is rationally willing to make choices in favor of death. To cope with such cases, practitioners came up with the idea of giving doctors the right to intentionally end a patient’s life in case of one’s desperation. However, since the very proposal, both medical workers and fellow residents divided into the camps of pro-and anti-physician-assisted suicide (PAS). While some people are sure that a person should, by all means, have a right to control the duration of one’s life, others reference the argument of stronger forces being in charge of those lives. As a result, some states consider PAS legal, while others equate it with murder. To settle the conflict, a series of social studies were conducted aimed at deciding the opinion of the vast majority.

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One of the latest researches conducted in the US concerned the attitude and level of PAS preparedness among the Midwest social workers. Although the research has shown that the vast majority of workers were in favor of PAS legalization, it is still necessary to dwell upon the arguments of both parties (Guston et al., 2018). Hence, in the course of this discussion, an attempt will be made to critically analyze the question of PAS legalization referring to the aforementioned study.

To begin with, it would be beneficial to dwell upon the notion of physician-assisted suicide. Researchers define PAS as a procedure that gives an individual the right to get a physician’s permission to obtain a medication leading to one’s lethal outcome (Guston et al., 2018). As controversial as it is, PAS has been legally approved in six states, aiming at increasing these statistics. Over the last years, bills have been pending in the legislature in twenty-five more states. Given this ambition, it may be suggested that once the vast majority of the state approves the bills, it will be only a matter of time for the legalization to spread over the whole country. Thus, it is important to understand whether the state is ready for such a major step towards the overall perception of death.

When deciding upon the validity of a decision, all the potential flaws and benefits of an option should be considered meticulously, especially when the option itself is highly controversial. Speaking of the PAS benefits, the human aspect should be outlined in the first place. In the context of today’s US diverse society, people’s will seems to be one of the most important national assets. For this reason, it should be acknowledged that people have the absolute right to terminate their lives when they feel like they cannot fight anymore. The notion of humaneness, presupposing individuals performing their qualities of empathy, makes more sense when giving one the chance to respect one’s perception of life duration.

The major disadvantage, however, concerns the consequences of such freedom. Regarding all the attempts made to promote tolerance and individual boundaries, the world is still replete with corruption and cruelty. When dealing with such a big state, the probability of unfair treatment and PAS abuse is automatically increasing at a considerably high rate. Physicians who already have quite many rights when it comes to patient treatment will be able to administer actual justice over people’s lives. Hence, there exists a major risk of some medical representatives adversely abusing the power that leads to the point of no return. Moreover, there is a concern over the ethical burden that might be placed onto families, patients, and physicians in the case of PAS legalization (Guston et al., 2018). A variety of cultural and religious prejudice also serves as a considerable stumbling point on the way to a universal agreement.

Bearing both these arguments in mind, one may estimate that the most optimal way to reach a consensus is to communicate with the people who directly cooperate with patients who may consider PAS an option. In this case, social workers operating in the field of end-of-life and palliative care are the ones who should be examined and surveyed in terms of PAS legalization. While a series of bills are waiting to be authorized, it is of significant importance to define whether social workers are, in fact, ready for this procedure approval to such a great extent.

At present, social workers across the US cannot be claimed to act in favor of either argument due to the moral law they are supposed to obey. The National Association of Social Workers’ Code of Ethics expects social workers to secure their right to be heard and treated with respect without picking a side in the argument (Guston et al., 2018). As a result, in terms of the study, researchers tried to establish how social workers should cooperate with patients to avoid any influence on the decision. Another aspect of the issue deals with the level of the workers’ preparedness for such a responsibility.

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A significant part of the research was dedicated to the issue of the workers’ awareness of the matter of PAS legislative state in their community. As it was estimated, although the vast majority of the employees were aware of the fact they had to be involved in the process of policymaking, many workers still had little knowledge of the issue (Guston et al., 2018). Considering that many social workers believe they are to be involved in the decision-making process when it comes to death aid, study authors decided to analyze the current level of awareness these workers had. Hence, social workers in the states of Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota were to fill an online questionnaire concerning their opinion in the following fields:

  • attitude towards PAS;
  • perception of preparedness;
  • policy awareness and involvement;
  • preferred terminology and context (Guston et al., 2018).

The population of the study constituted 62 social workers from the aforementioned states that, at the time, were considering legalizing PAS. The results of the study were discussed according to the defined questionnaire sections. Speaking of the attitude towards death with dignity, 31,2% and 23% of the workers claimed to support and strongly support the concept, respectively. Seven respondents expressed strong opposition to the procedure. Out of the five proposed terms that might be used about the process, almost half of the respondents (42,6%) were in favor of the term “death with dignity.” Such a choice was justified by the argument that such a notion did not subconsciously correlate with suicide (Guston et al., 2018).

The next data sector was explicitly connected to the level of the worker’s preparedness along with the factors, which, in their opinion, contributed to that level. As a result of the study, more than 60% of the interviewees stated they were either slightly or moderately prepared for the procedure legalization. Moreover, the most frequently chosen influential factors appeared to be professional experience (80, 6%), professional values (67, 7%), and personal values (59, 7%) (Guston et al., 2018). Thus, such an exhaustive study may be used as a basis to ponder the decision of whether the procedure of physician-assisted suicide should be legal within the state.

The issue of PAS legalization has now become a topic for continuous discussion to such an extent that it can be avoided by the public no longer. However, in terms of this discussion, new points of view and considerations appear at a rapid rate among both opponents and supporters of the concept. Much attention is paid to the cultural and religious background in particular. However, when analyzing the patterns of world history, people managed to reach an agreement despite the scopes of issues to secure their lives. Hence, it would probably be the right choice to accept the fact of PAS legalization while doing one’s best to foresee the potential complications of the decision.

Taking everything into consideration, it may be concluded that the notion of physician-assisted suicide is extremely complicated in terms of proper universal interpretation. However, the notions of freedom and human rights have now become central in the American social paradigm. In the course of the research conducted to examine the social worker’s perception of the concept and their preparedness for PAS legalization, it was estimated that the vast majority appeared to support the idea. Such an approach, hence, should be applied to the whole system to persuade society that life termination is an individual’s right.


Guston, N. R., Randall, J. M., & Kiesel, L. R. (2018). Physician-assisted suicide and Midwest social workers: Where do they stand? Journal of Social Work in End-of-Life and Palliative Care, 14(1), 73-92.

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