Why Physicians are Reluctant to Remove Patient’s Life Support Systems?

Physician-assisted Suicide (PSD) or others call it euthanasia has been an issue of considerable debates for many years. It puts into question the rights of physicians and medical professionals to perform assisted deaths to patients whose conditions are in grave pain. Many medical professionals differentiate euthanasia from physician-assisted suicide because of some practices that would distinguish it from euthanasia. Some argued that the practice of physician-assisted suicide is ethical, justified by informed consent and informed refusal on the part of the patient.

In physician-assisted suicide, it is the patient who will administer a lethal dose of medication to end his or her life. Euthanasia on the other hand, refers to the act of a physician who directly administers certain processes like injecting lethal dose of medicine or removing the support system of the patient, to end the patient’s life. Those who are in favor or physician-assisted suicide would argue that the individual has the right to decide on the time and the manner of his or her death to end sufferings caused by severe illnesses.

Physicians would also consider the refusal of the patient to take in curable measures like taking medicines, to hasten the process of death. Though a physician and the society in general values life, there are instances when the patient is terminally ill and urges the physician to help him or her end his life. In most states, physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia are illegal. Professional Organizations as well, like the American Medical Association abhors the practice of physician-assisted suicide on the grounds that it reduces the profession into something that is being used in justifying murders or homicides.

Despite these objections, surveys conducted to patients generally shows acceptance of the practice especially when the patient is in a condition of dire suffering. Reluctant to Do the Act Physicians are generally reluctant to remove the life support system of a patient due to the fact that the act that they will commit is considered as euthanasia, and euthanasia is illegal. A physician or any medical professional committing such act would be convicted of murder under the state laws. The physician who committed the act carries the burden of proof when it comes to the point that he or she has to defend the act made towards the victim.

The very first thing that the physician might think is the legality of the act as well as the moral issues accompanying the act. Aside from the illegality of euthanasia, removing the life support system of the patient is against the profession’s ethical code of conduct thereby undermining the integrity of the profession. In a society that values the sanctity of life, physicians would hesitate to commit the act knowing that it is against moral and ethical conduct for someone who is accountable to preserve life.

Furthermore, removing the life support system of the patient denies him of her right to live. If this act is legalized, it will also lead to abuse towards patients who cannot afford to go on with expensive processes of cure. If for example an elderly is suffering from a chronic disease, he or she may be forced to just die so as not to bear the pain caused by the disease. Whether or not a physician removes the life support system of the patient, the act is still a question of ethics and morality, thereby reflecting the values that the physician holds.

The same is true with physician-assisted suicide even if the physician is not the one directly administering the method that can cause death to the patient. All life is irreplaceable. A physician’s role is to restore the health condition of the patient. The patient’s situation has to be explored more so that physicians can administer a more effective ameliorative process other than removing his or her life support system, to alleviate the patient’s sufferings.


Luce, J.M. (2009). Ethical Principles in Critical Care. The Journal of American Medical

Association, 263. Retrieved July 13, 2009, from http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/reprint/263/5/696.

Luce, J.M. and Alpers, A. (2000). Legal Aspects of Withholding and Withdrawing Life

Support from Critically Ill Patients in the United States and Providing Palliative

Care to Them. The American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine,

(162). Retrieved July 13, 2009 from http://ajrccm.atsjournals.org/cgi/content/full/162/6/2029#B4.

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