Barry Levinson’s film, “You Don’t Know Jack” stars Al Pacino, Brenda Vaccaro and John Goodman among others. This 2010 biopic examines the life and medical practice of Dr. Jack Kevorkian (played by Al Pacino) who made headlines in the 1990s for advocating for physician-assisted suicide (PAS) or euthanasia to end the life of terminally-ill patients experiencing extreme pain and suffering. Dr. Kevorkian’s attitudes and perspectives on PAS and euthanasia earned him the nickname “Dr. Death”, particularly after inventing the “Mercitron”, some kind of machine he used to end the lives of more than 130 terminally-ill patients who sought his assistance. This film presents both intriguing and horrifying scenes, but there is one particular scene, which is very significant to this essay. In this particular scene, Dr. Kevorkian takes the viewers through the whole process of conducting PAS and euthanasia starting with consultations and signing of the patient’s informed consent to the actual death of the patients. Moreover, this scene presents the traumatizing experiences of each patient and their family members prior to seeking assistance from Dr. Kevorkian. From Dr. Kevorkian’s perspective on the topic of PAS and euthanasia, it is apparent that there is a humane and sympathetic way of guaranteeing terminally-ill patients a “good death”. This essay presents compelling arguments in favor of PAS and euthanasia based on Dr. Kevorkian’s views and additional opinions from other primary sources.
The type of physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia depicted in this film is referred to as voluntary euthanasia. For euthanasia or PAS to be referred to as voluntary, the physician must first determine whether the patient is of sound mind before requesting the patient to provide an informed consent allowing the physician to end or assist in ending their lives. Moreover, the physician must exhaust all possible options including providing the patients with second opinion before initiating euthanasia or PAS. Therefore, the way PAS is conducted in this particular film is morally right and it portrays Dr. Kevorkian as someone who has compassion for another human being’s pain and suffering. As a result, Dr. Kevorkian’s actions can be ethically and morally justified based on a variety of reasons. First, in the practice of medicine, it is an ethical or moral requirement for all doctors to respect the patient’s right to self-determination (Keown 6). More specifically, the principles of medical ethics emphasize the need to respect the patient’s decision on whether they want to live or die, particularly if they have the decision-making capacity. Therefore, the patient’s right to self-determination has been cited in many occasions whereby many people have indicated that patients reserve the right to ask their physicians to end their lives or at least to provide them with the means of killing themselves (Devettere 334).
Another important aspect of medical ethics that has been cited in favor of euthanasia and PAS involves patient autonomy. Here, it is imperative to indicate that the principles of medical ethics dictate that patients should exercise their freedom of choice in that they reserve the right to choose the medical practices and medications that best fit their preferences and needs while upholding their personal, religious, and cultural philosophies. Therefore, a patient can choose euthanasia or PAS if his or her personal, religious, and cultural principles allow it. Most importantly, doctors are expected to respect patient autonomy since it forms the core of the patient-physician relationship, which is founded on trust and respect for each other’s rights and privileges. As a result, it is obvious that patient autonomy and the right to self-determination are moral norms according to the principles of medical ethics. Hence, assisted suicide and euthanasia can be morally justified since they are closely linked with the principles of autonomy and self-determination (Devettere 334).
Furthermore, individual liberty and the right to choose is a fundamental human right enshrined in the constitutions of many countries including the international human rights conventions. Consequently, if people have the right to choose from a variety of available options, then it is possible that someone can choose death if it is a possible option (Devettere 335). Another compelling argument that can be cited in favor of euthanasia and PAS entails the need to relief the pain and suffering experienced by terminally-ill patients and their family members. Therefore, euthanasia and PAS are part of the possible ways of showing compassion for human suffering and pain.
The foregoing discussions provide the most compelling arguments in favor of assisted suicide and PAS. However, the opponents of euthanasia and PAS argue that the reasons for the two end-of-life practices in relation to patient autonomy and self-determination are deficient to the extent that they fail to establish a concrete ethical or moral perspective. This is because there is nothing that can be morally or ethically justified just because it can be chosen. Furthermore, the opponents of euthanasia and PAS argue that the two end-of-life practices cannot be justified just because they serve to relief the patients’ suffering and pain. In fact, there are many pain management options and medications in the market currently; hence, no one deserves to die as a result of experiencing pain (Devettere 336).
Nonetheless, it is important to note that many patients exercise the right to self-determination and autonomy in terms of committing suicide despite that the act of ending one’s life is illegal in many countries. Therefore, instead of allowing people to seek other crude means of ending their lives such as through hanging or shooting themselves, it is important to offer them the most humane and sympathetic way of dying through euthanasia and PAS. Further, it is right that there are many pain management options and medications in the market, but their effect does not go beyond relieving pain into eliminating the psychological consequences of a terminal illness or disability. Overall, in order to ensure that terminally-ill patients find peace in their last days of living, it is important to give them the opportunity to experience “good death”. And this can only be achieved through allowing terminally-ill and disabled patients to seek assisted suicide and euthanasia from their trusted physicians.