Physician-assisted suicide and theory application

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Should physician-assisted suicide be allowed in certain cases, such as on patients with advanced terminal diseases, but not in other cases? Physician-assisted suicide is the process in which an individual takes their life willingly, with the assistance of the physician using harmful or deadly drugs (Hawkins, 2002). These drugs are provided to the patient by the doctor after the patient willingly decides to end his/her life. According to Hawkins (2002), the patient then self-administers the drugs on themselves after signing a document stating that they are willing to die. Patients with advanced terminal diseases undergo a lot of pain and suffering (Pappas, 2012). Physician-assisted suicides assist in the reduction of their pain and suffering. Emotional and physical pains felt by the families, and the patients can lead to this decision to take one’s life (Hawkins, 2002). From a certain viewpoint, this can be justified and considered to be right. However, from another point of view, it is wrong.

To approach this issue actually, it is essential that we apply the utilitarian ethical theory. It will be effective because it places its emphasis on what society considers being right or wrong (West, 2006). Sheng (1991) argues that it also analyzes the consequences that result from our decisions or actions. Allowing physician-assisted suicide in certain cases such as on patients with the advanced terminal disease is supported by the theory (Hawkins, 2002). It is because it is right for the patient as well as the family, friends, and society. It reduces their emotional, physical pain and suffering as well as other issues such as financial constraints because the patient cannot be cured (Pappas, 2012). However, according to this theory, the death of the patient can cause more pain, suffering and other negative issues to the family and friends (Sheng, 1991).

Theory Explanation

The utilitarian ethical theory was suggested by Jeremy Bentham and later advanced by John Stuart Mill (West, 2006). According to Sheng (1991), it is an approach that puts emphasis on an outcome from an action or decision being right or wrong. It is an ethical theory states that every decision or action that is taken in the society should take into account the interest of other people to ensure that it is right and not wrong (West, 2006). Sheng (1991), states that Jeremy Bentham argued that decisions and actions should recognize the role that is played by pleasure or pain. It is essential to monitor and measure the consequences that are likely to come out of our actions and decisions (West, 2006).

The theory also suggests that evil results in pain while good results in pleasure. West (2006), also state that Jeremy Bentham also argued that the level of right or wrong could be measured. John Stuart Mill approached the utilitarian ethical theory in another perspective. He explained that the degree of good or bad cannot be measured (West, 2006). He stated that our actions and decisions should ensure that they bring pleasure to the larger group of people in the society (Sheng, 1991). According to West (2006), Mill argued that happiness for the larger group of the people is more important even if some people may be subjected to pain.

Theory Application

Physician-assisted suicide is a responsible decision or action that is taken by the patient to reduce pain and suffering (Hawkins, 2002). It also helps in managing the emotional and physical pains that the family of the patient undergo during the patient treatment process (Pappas, 2012). It also helps in reducing the financial constraints that the family and friends may be experiencing.  According to Hawkins (2002), advanced terminal diseases are not curable. Therefore referring to the theory, the action of the patient to take their life can be ethically be considered right because it serves the larger good for the patient and the people related to the patient (West, 2006).

The theory pinpoints out the role that pain and pleasure play in people’s lives. It is importance that decisions and actions bring about joy and happiness rather than pain (Sheng, 1991). Physician-assisted suicide ends the pain and suffering of the patient and the family which is a fundamental principle for the utilitarian ethical theory (Pappas, 2012). The quality of happiness that comes from this decision benefits the larger group of people and is therefore good according to this theory (West, 2006). Because advanced terminal diseases cannot be cured; this represents a higher level of pain (Pappas, 2012). Therefore the decision to exercise physician-assisted suicide is good because it lowers the level of pain that the patient, family, and friends undergo during the treatment process (Hawkins, 2002).


Physician-assisted suicide may result in more pain and suffering for the patient family and friends (Pappas, 2012). The death of the patient may bring about more physical and emotion pain for the larger group of people. It is against the principles of the utilitarian ethical theory (West, 2006). Death cannot bring pleasure or happiness to people especially if it’s a loved individual in the society. The action or decision of the patient to take their life may, therefore, be ethically wrong (Sheng, 1991). The theory states that the consequence of every decision should bring pleasure to the large group of people in the community (West, 2006). Also, it should bring about more pleasure than pain to the people in the society (Sheng, 1991). However, if the death of the patient results in more pain and suffering to the larger group of individuals, it is not ethical. Committing suicide of this nature is also a wrong decision because it shows the patient takes into account his/her interests without considering the interests of other people in the society (West, 2006).


In summary, physician-assisted suicide is a decision that is taken by the patient as a way of dealing with their pain and suffering. Advanced terminal diseases cannot be cured, and it is a step that is taken to serve the larger good of the patient and the society. Physician-assisted suicide can be right for the patient and the family. Utilitarian theory shows that its consequences may serve the larger good and add happiness to the family or the patient. This brings joy because it deals with the pain and suffering of the patient. On the other hand, the death of the patient through the physician-assisted suicide can equally be wrong. This can bring more pain and suffering to the society because it may not be the best thing to do for the largest group of people in the community. They may consider it unethical.

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  1. Hawkins, G. (2002). Physician-assisted suicide. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press.
  2. Pappas, D. (2012). The euthanasia/assisted-suicide debate. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood.
  3. Sheng, C. (1991). A New Approach to Utilitarianism: A Unified Utilitarian Theory and Its Application to Distributive Justice. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.
  4. West, H. (2006). The Blackwell Guide to Mill’s Utilitarianism. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.
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