Debaters question if physician-assisted suicide is morally permissible
Thinkers from the UMBC community gathered Nov. 6 to discuss the moral and ethical issues surrounding euthanasia.
Intellectual debate has long been the privilege of university students. To hear well-constructed arguments from different viewpoints is a valuable part of the learning process. To that end, several esteemed opponents met Nov. 6 on campus to discuss the morally weighted issue of physician-assisted suicide, or euthanasia.
The debate was held by the Biology Council of Majors and Philosophers Anonymous, two student organizations on campus. These groups intend to foster intellectual discussion through a series of debates on social issues.
Physician-assisted suicide, or euthanasia, was defined for the sake of the debate as a painless method for ending a life, with a doctor’s help, when a person has an incurable disease. The practice is almost completely illegal in the United States. However, many advocate for the practice as a means of ending suffering.
On the affirmative side, in favor of legalizing euthanasia, were Honors College Director Dr. Simon Stacey and Ph.D. candidate Patrick O’Neill. Opposing were Dr. Paul Hoehner, from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and Rev. Michael DeAscanis, a Roman Catholic spiritual leader from Baltimore.
In favor of euthanasia, Stacey and O’Neill argued the point of consent. “You should be in charge,” said O’Neill, “of how you wish to die.” Any consenting adult, they argued, has the right to make all other decisions concerning their lives, and this question is no different.
Stacey suggested that there is no moral basis to oppose the issue. He claimed that suicide can be moral if it violates no one else’s rights and no wrong is done to others. Thus, assisting someone in their suicide is, by association, morally responsible.
The opposition acknowledged every consenting adult’s desire for a “good death,” inherent in the etymology of the word “euthanasia.” However, they argued that consent is not always guaranteed. “Euthanasia,” said Hoehner, “doesn’t treat the suffering, but kills the sufferer.”
Hoehner and DeAscanis suggested that this could create grave consequences for the medical practice. Terminally ill patients may feel obligated to be euthanized, to remove the supposed burden from society. Doctors are supposed to heal or ease suffering, not be agents of death.
The subject of depression was discussed at length by both sides. It was suggested by the opposition that a sufferer of depression, especially someone with a terminal illness, cannot give valid consent to euthanasia. Depression often brings suicidal thoughts, which calls into question whether or not a person is in their right mind.
After each side presented their argument and took questions from the audience, the judges (a panel of students) gave their verdict. In this debate, Stacey and O’Neill, who argued the affirmative side, presented the best case. The opposition could not produce a reason for the government to intervene in the decision of a consenting adult.
Beyond this debate, the conversation continues in various venues. The issue is by no means solved. Euthanasia continues to be a hotly contested moral and legal issue, but this debate was informative and eye-opening for many members of the audience. Biocom’s next debate, which will be on the topic of humanoids evolving elsewhere in space, will be held in early December.