Legal, Ethical and Moral Issues Facing Nurses in Cases of Patient-Requested Suicide

Introduction

Suicide, whether assisted, unassisted, or aided, is a common issue affecting practitioners in nursing, clinical and biomedical fields (Bandman & Bandman, 2012). Although physician or nurse-assisted suicide has been the major topic of debate as far as ethical, moral, and legal aspects are concerned, nurses are increasingly encountering the same problems, especially those providing end-of-life care. In the case discussed in this paper, the nurse is aware that the patient wants to commit suicide. In addition, the patient requests the nurse to let her commit suicide without the knowledge of her family. Therefore, this amounts to nurse-aided death, which attracts a number of ethical, legal, and moral issues in nursing.

Ethical, moral, and legal issues of nurse-aided suicide

Legal issue

Under the current law, suicide is not a crime. Nevertheless, aiding or assisting an individual to die or failing to take action when one is aware that a person wants to commit suicide is a crime (Bandman & Bandman, 2012). The legalization of aided or assisted suicide is based on the notion that every person has the moral right to choose death, provided the person does not cause harm to other people (Nathaniel, 2006). This means that it is the right of the patient to choose death. Thus, as a nurse, I am supposed to respect my patient’s right to choose death.

Ethical and Moral issues

The patient is one of the millions of people lying in hospitals due to painful and terminal diseases or conditions, which leaves them permanently incapacitated and lacking human dignity (Bandman & Bandman, 2012). The only way to relieve suffering from the patient is to let the patient die. In addition, my inability to respect the patient’s decision is both inhumane and cruel. Ethically, compassion demands that I cooperate and comply with her request (Fletcher & Holt, 2011).

However, it is worth noting that society has a moral duty to respect, save and preserve human life at all costs. Allowing people to commit suicide is an act that violates society’s fundamental duty of respecting and preserving life. Therefore, society does not commission the nurse to destroy the precious life of any of its members (Fletcher & Holt, 2011).

Thirdly, even if there is a legal basis to justify my action of allowing the patient to commit suicide, it is unethical because the patient has not consulted her family members. In particular, the nurse should inform the patient’s family. On the other hand, the patient is aware that her family will not allow her to commit suicide, yet it is the only way to end her suffering.

Conclusion

As a nurse, I will be facing moral and ethical dilemmas because I need to respect my patient’s decisions. On the other hand, I will be obliged to inform the members of the family before allowing her to commit suicide. It is my duty to protect human life, but it is also my duty to respect the will of my patient. Moreover, it is my legal responsibility to ensure that I do not assist the patient to commit suicide. I should also not fail to take any action that would preserve her life. Therefore, the most appropriate decision is to summon the trusted family members and hold a thorough discussion in order to find the best solution.

References

Bandman, E. & Bandman, B. (2012). Nursing Ethics Through the Life Span. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Fletcher, N., & Holt, J. (2011). Ethics, Law and Nursing. New York: OUP.

Nathaniel, A.K. (2006). Moral reckoning in nursing. Western Journal of Nursing Research, 28(4), 419-438.

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