Over the past decade, we have gone from Dr. Jack Kevorkian's first public assisted suicide to the first legal assisted suicide in Oregon. The underlying issue has been whether terminally ill individuals should have the right to ask a doctor to hasten their own deaths. However, larger issues have been raised as well; about dying with dignity and what constitutes a ''good death.''
Dr. Kevorkian's actions are reflective of the Pre-Conventional stage of moral reasoning; he felt his action was good, despite respect to any kind of moral order.
In the majority of cases, people die in hospitals where physicians and nurses make heroic efforts to keep patients alive until there is no reasonable chance for their recovery. Unfortunately, in the course of those valiant efforts, pain, suffering, and the wishes of patients and their families are often overlooked as physicians and staff struggle with medical, moral, legal, and economic matters.
In most cases, medical professionals have significant discretion in deciding when additional efforts to sustain life are futile, and a patient should be allowed to die.
This stage of moral reasoning is conducive to Law and Order; doing one's duty, upholding respect for authority and obeying rules.
Physicians continue to face this ethical dilemma today. The American Medical Association said in one legal brief, ''For over 2,000 years, the predominant responsibility of the physician has not been to preserve life at all costs but to serve the patient's needs while respecting the patient's autonomy and dignity,'' Concurrently, the AMA opposes physician-assisted suicide. The Hippocratic oath still states: ''To please no one will I prescribe a deadly drug, or give advice which may cause his death.'' This moral reasoning of physicians is at the Conventional Level, in which the right behavior is living up to the expectations of family...