Texas Political Union discusses ethics of doctor-assisted suicide

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Photo Credit: Avery Chahl | Daily Texan Staff

With a resounding bang of a gavel, the Texas Political Union commenced its last debate of the semester.

On Tuesday, the nonpartisan discussion group held an open debate about physician-assisted suicide and autonomy over one’s life. With calls to legalize physician-assisted suicide increasing in recent years, attendees of the discussion touched upon themes such as religious and ethical concerns, doctors’ responsibilities and appropriate methods of suicide.

“I think America’s very confused about life and death,” Elizabeth Contreras, a public health freshman, said. “We have the death penalty, yet we also have suicide prevention initiatives. We have do-not-resuscitate orders but there’s still controversy around whether terminally ill people should be able to choose when they die.” 

Computer science freshman Anurag Singh said there is a parallel between the right to refuse treatment and the right to die. 

“The principle of agency over one’s own body has to be applicable universally,” Singh said. “If we think that the patient is the sole person responsible for the agency for their body, then on the other side of the coin, it should be justifiable that people like Jehovah’s Witnesses be able to refuse blood transfusions for religious purposes and that people can refuse vaccinations.”

Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old with terminal brain cancer, sparked controversy in 2014 after moving to Oregon and dying with assistance from her physician. Oregon is one of five states with legal protections for assisted suicide. Maynard’s death set off a national outcry to push other states to enact similar legislation. Texas Political Union members said there are constitutionally gray areas with regard to Maynard’s decision and what it could mean for the future. 

“If we don’t have legal barriers to assisted suicide, that choice will be made readily available, and physician-assisted suicide is going to get chosen a lot more often,” architecture sophomore Matthew Van Hoorn said. “I don’t think that’s something that should
be encouraged.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that no right exists for physician-assisted suicide, but nevertheless has given states permission to enact laws to permit it. Currently in Texas, euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal, but life support removal is not.

“In the Constitution, we have the right to life, along with (that to) liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” government junior Alex Walheim said. “But the question of the night is, ‘Do we also have the right to death?’”