Physician Assisted Suicide: Who truly has the Right over our Death
Every person at one point in their life will be confronted with the sad reality of knowing someone who may suffer from a terminal illness. There isn't a day that passes that a terminal ill patient is dealing with excruciating pain physically, but also the physiological stress and worry of knowing an imminent and painful death is near. This is, however, the situation that many terminally ill patients are faced with and most would choose to die without going through the suffering and pain. Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) is the procedure of a physician providing a competent terminal ill patient a prescription for medication to voluntary terminate his or her own life. Physician Assisted Suicide is legal in only five states within the U.S. PAS is a very controversial topic deals with medical ethics, personal morals and religious beliefs that make this topic emotional and highly debated within the United States. I believe Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) should be legalized in all the United States. By legalizing PAS, it can provide competent patients the relief of knowing they won't have to suffer physically and mentally during his/her illness and also providing less financial issues in relation to healthcare. This would also provide family members and physician's time to get through the heartbreaking experience.
There are several states within the U.S. who have adopted laws legalizing assisted suicide. On October 27, 1997 Oregon enacted the Death with Dignity Act which allows
terminally-ill Oregonians to end their lives through the voluntary self-administration of lethal medications, expressly prescribed by a physician for that purpose. The Oregon Death with Dignity Act requires the Oregon Health Authority to collect information about the patients and physicians who participate in the Act, and publish an annual statistical report. (Ganzini).
The second state that has legalized Physician Assisted Suicide is Washington. The Washington Death with Dignity Act was established in November 4, 2008. The Washington Death with Dignity Act (DWDA) allows competent, terminally ill adults to request a lethal dose of medication from a physician. (Feldt)
The state of Montana was the third state that legalized Assisted Suicide. A lower court in Montana ruled in 2008 that the state's constitutional privacy and human dignity rights allow a terminally ill patient to "die with dignity." The court ruled patients may use a doctor's prescription, and that the physician is protected from prosecution under Montana's homicide laws. Montana appealed that ruling to the state's high court. (Rosenblatt)
The state of Vermont was the fourth state to legalize Physician Assisted Suicide. The law was set in place May 20, 2013. The law requires at least two physicians to make the medical decision whether or not a patient qualifies for physician-assisted suicide. A patient wishing to end their life must make an initial oral request at least 15 days before receiving lethal drugs, and a written and oral request to die 48 hours before receiving them. Bob Ullrich, a board member of the advocacy group Patient Choices Vermont stated "It means peace of mind and comfort to a lot of people, including me, that I hope no one ever has to use the law, but to know every day of your life that it's there should such an occurrence happen," he told The Burlington Free Press after the signing
The state of California is the fifth state to approve Physician Assisted Suicide. The law was established for the State of California on October 5, 2015. The law mirrors Oregon's requirements regarding Physician Assisted Suicide. The state of California is currently the last state to approve of the law.
The ethical debate continues among physicians and the entire medical community in regards to Physician Assisted Suicide. There are many medical professionals who approve of (PAS) and believe it is sensible for a terminal ill patient to choose death on their circumstances than rather suffer excruciating pain and worry during their last months. Many physicians believe competent terminal ill patients should be able to choose the timing and manner of death in the face of a terminal illness while trying to maintain a good quality of life the last couple of months. It is the physician duty to alleviate any suffering or pain, does this indicate or provide justification for assisted suicide. Dr. Clarence Braddock states "Justice requires that we "treat like cases alike." Competent, terminally ill patients have the legal right to refuse treatment that will prolong their deaths. For patients who are suffering but who are not dependent on life support, such as respirators or dialysis, refusing treatment will not suffice to hasten death. Thus, to treat these patients equitably, we should allow assisted death as it is their only option to hasten death".
The other ethical side of the medical debate raises many questions as well. It is the physician's ethical duty to preserve life and do no harm. There is a major importance between "letting someone die" and actively "killing". The refusal to provide treatment or medication is passive "letting someone die" and whereas Physician Assisted Suicide equates to killing "active" which isn't justifiable. Historical ethical traditions in medicine are strongly opposed to taking life.
For instance, the Hippocratic Oath states, "I will not administer poison to anyone where asked," and I will "be of benefit, or at least do no harm." Furthermore, some major professional groups such as the American Medical Association and the American Geriatrics Society oppose assisted death. The overall concern is that linking PAD to the practice of medicine could harm both the integrity and the public's image of the profession. (Braddock)
Although argued, there are many factors that benefit terminal ill patients when choosing Physician Assisted suicide. One of the main benefits is the patient not having to suffer through the excruciating pain, mental stress and the deterioration of being incapacitated from their illness. The main issue in regards to Physician Assisted Suicide is the patient not having to suffer and lose some of the quality of life they may still have to enjoy their last months without being bed ridden from medical treatment that may be prolonging their life but keeping them bed bound and sick. Just recently the topic of Assisted Suicide was main stream due to a young lady by the name of Brittany Maynard. Brittany Maynard was from California, a highly educated 29 year old female who had just been married a year and was in the process of trying to start a family of her own. On New Year's Day 2013 and with prior months of suffering from headaches, Brittany found out she had brain cancer.
Within days from her initial diagnoses, Brittany had brain surgery with the hopes of stopping the tumor from growing. Months after the surgery Brittany was told the tumor had comeback aggressively, and the physicians gave Brittany 6 months to live. Brittany was offered aggressive radiation treatment but felt the quality of life as she knew it would be gone. There was no treatment that would cure her, and she knew she had little time left. Brittany didn't want to suffer her last months of her life and she didn't want her family to suffer as well, she states "I probably would have suffered in hospice care for weeks or even months. And my family would have had to watch that. I did not want this nightmare scenario for my family, so I started researching death with dignity. It is an end-of-life option for mentally competent, terminally ill patients with a prognosis of six months or less to live. It would enable me to use the medical practice of aid in dying: I could request and receive a prescription from a physician for medication that I could self-ingest to end my dying process if it becomes unbearable"
Brittany Maynard and her husband moved from California to Oregon where Physician Assisted Suicide is legal. Brittany met all the requirements required by Death with Dignity in Oregon. Once Brittany was setup in Oregon and after months of seeing physicians in Oregon, Brittany was given the lethal medication. Brittany states "'I've had the medication for weeks. I am not suicidal. If I were, I would have consumed that medication long ago. I do not want to die. But I am dying. And I want to die on my own terms. I would not tell anyone else that he or she should choose death with dignity. My question is: Who has the right to tell me that I don't deserve this choice? That I deserve to suffer for weeks or months in tremendous amounts of physical and emotional pain? Why should anyone have the right to make that choice for me?
Brittany states that knowing she has the pill available gives her relief and peace of mind of being able to choose when she wants to die. Brittany states "Now, I'm able to move forward in my remaining days or weeks I have on this beautiful Earth, to seek joy and love and to spend time traveling to outdoor wonders of nature with those I love. And I know that I have a safety net.
Brittany had the benefit to pass how and when she chose, her last written statement before passing was "When my suffering becomes too great, I can say to all those I love, "I love you; come be by my side, and come say goodbye as I pass into whatever's next." I will die upstairs in my bedroom with my husband, mother, stepfather and best friend by my side and pass peacefully. I can't imagine trying to rob anyone else of that choice." Brittany Maynard chose to pass away on November 1, 2014. Brittany's story played a major role in legalizing Physician Assisted Suicide California.
There is also the emotional stress that family members deal while taking care of a terminal ill loved one. Nova Weetman states in regards to taking care of her mother who was dying from cancer "For months before she went into the hospital, my mom was so sick she could barely eat. Losing weight rapidly, she was a walking skeleton. I became obsessed with feeding her. I would cook six different dishes, sourcing ingredients like a crazed chef, and then drive it all across town, often ignoring the needs of my own young family, to try and tempt her with tiny mouthfuls, like a baby bird. It was perverse. She was dying, even then, and we all refused to see it. Instead I was force-feeding her like I would my son when he avoided vegetables for the third day in a row". Family members of a terminal ill patient will also feel the unbearable pain and suffering. It is a very difficult situation when trying to balance and manage their own life and family, then the stress of losing a loved one is unbearable.
The debate regarding Physician Assisted Suicide will continue to be a very important topic. While there are Pros/Cons regarding the subject I believe every state should legalize Assisted Suicide. We grow up to believe and are told while growing up we can do whatever we chose in life. We as individuals have the right to choose who or what we may want to grow up to be professionally. We have the right to marry who we want and the choice to live the way we want. All individuals have the right to do whatever we chose as long as it not illegal. Why within the United States don't we have the freedom to choose how our life may want to be lived even during our death? I don't want to suffer if ever confronted with a terminal illness and I don't ever want my family to see me deteriorate within a shell of a body that may no longer be able to communicate. I hope someday I may have a choice.