Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide: For and Against

By Coxon, Amy | Ethics & Medicine, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview

Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide: For and Against


Coxon, Amy, Ethics & Medicine


Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide: For and Against Gerald Dworkin, R. G. Frey, and Sissela Bok New York, NY, and Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998 ISBN 0-521-58246-6, 139 pp., hardcover $49.95; paperback $14.95

This issue of the For and Against series addressed euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. Gerald Dworkin and R. G. Frey stated that they intended `to argue that, under certain circumstances, it is morally permissible, and ought to be legally permissible, for physicians to provide the knowledge and/or means by which a person can take her own life' (p. 3) On the opposing side, Sissela Bok argued that we `take great and needless risks in moving toward legalizing euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide . . .' (p. 139).

In their argument in favour of physician-assisted suicide (PAS) and active voluntary euthanasia (AVE), Dworkin and Frey discuss the differences between PAS and AVE. They discuss the philosophical differences between withholding or withdrawing treatment at the patient's request, or the administration of drugs at the patient's request, all intended to bring about death. Dworkin and Frey believe there is no moral difference between the withdrawal of feeding tubes or the administration of pills, as `both sorts of assistance are compatible with being rendered with the intention of relieving the patient's suffering' (p. 36). They also devote a chapter to debating the `slippery slope' argument, pointing out that it is illogical to think that if PAS/AVE is legalised, it would lead to the point of `terminating the incompetent or to justifying involuntary termination' (p. 46). They believe that `it does not seem beyond human ingenuity to devise a set of guidelines and controls . . : (p. 51).

The theme of Dworkin and Frey's argument is patient autonomy. `Control over our own lives is one of the most important goods we enjoy ... it is our life, and how we live it and what we make of it is up to us' (p. 17). They use this belief as the basis for their statement that 'such patients seek to continue to exercise control over their lives, now in the form of bringing about their deaths' (p. 17). The philosophical views of Dworkin and Frey reminded me of the quote by R. C. Sproul; 'We still grasp for autonomy, refusing to have God rule over us' (Playing God, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1997, p. 54).

Sissela Bok's argument against the legalisation of PAS and AVE begins by questioning whether autonomy is best, 'rather than leaving matters to divine will or to Providence' (p. …

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