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Every day in the United States, Americans are exposed to society’s arguments concerning issues about our right to make our own choices in life-changing decisions. We often hear about gay marriage rights and abortion rights but rarely does physician-assisted suicide get a voice. Not because it isn’t happening but because death is often viewed as a taboo subject and becomes even more so if it is a matter of death by suicide.
As stated on the website, MedicineNet.com, Physician-Assisted suicide or PAS is the voluntary termination of one’s life by administration of a lethal substance with the direct or indirect assistance of a physician by providing a competent patient with a prescription for medication for the patient to use with the primary intention of ending his or her own life. Physician-assisted suicide should be a legal option for patients contending with a physical or mental condition, regardless of age or degree of diagnosis.
How it works
PAS should be discussed with the patient as a possibility, along with additional treatments for their diagnosis. The “Brief History of Euthanasia” explains how physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia have developed over time: It is believed that euthanasia started in ancient Greece and Rome around the fifth century B.C. They did this by abortions and every now and then performed a mercy killing. Even though doctors were supposed to follow the Hippocratic Oath, many did not, therefore, end up giving patients poison if they asked them to. During the Middle Ages, euthanasia was pretty much out of the question.
If one committed suicide, the law in Europe was for the body to be “dragged through the streets or nailed to a barrel and left to drift downriver” (procon.org). During the Seventeenth and Eighteenth centuries’ euthanasia was a topic of discussion. However, people continued to reject euthanasia and assisted suicide. It wasn’t until 1828 that the first American law made assisted suicide illegal. Although America outlawed euthanasia and assisted suicide, some states were still trying to get a law passed at the state level. During the 1930s, euthanasia started to gain support in the U.S., and societies that were in favor of it started to pop up not only in the U.S. but in England as well.
However, World War Two would change euthanasia forever. Hitler and the Nazis killed hundreds of thousands of people using euthanasia. Hitler and company did this by gassing, drugs, and starving the people. This put a halt to the euthanasia movement as Americans grew less fond of euthanasia. A poll asked Americans in 1950 whether euthanasia was okay, and “only 36 percent answered ‘yes’ approximately 10 percent less than in the late 1930s” (procon.org). The late 20th and early 21st century would be the time for euthanasia.
The Netherlands would be the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia, and Belgium would legalize it soon after the Netherlands did. Australia did allow euthanasia for a brief time in the mid-90s as well. In 1998, Oregon would be the first U.S. state to allow euthanasia, and Washington and Montana would follow. Over time physician-assisted suicide has now been legalized in seven U.S. states and the District of Columbia. It is an option given to individuals by law in the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. It is an option given to individuals in Montana via court decisions.
Individuals must have a terminal illness as well as a prognosis of six months or fewer to live. Physicians cannot be prosecuted for prescribing medications to hasten death. As Americans and human beings, it is important to have the freedom to control our lives and make decisions based on our beliefs and values. Terminally ill people are no exception. They should have the freedom to choose how they would like their lives to end. As most of us do, we find it important to remain as independent as possible.
When terminally ill people begin to lose their independence and rely on others for their basic everyday living needs, they may look at this as a form of suffering and long to hasten their death because they desire the ability to control how much of a responsibility they will be to family members and caregivers. Although this may be looked at as a form of depression and not so much as suffering, we can’t say for sure how we would be affected in the same situation.
In Timothy E. Quill’s book, Death and Dignity Making Choices and Taking Charge, he states: “If we don’t admit to the possibility of intolerable end-of-life suffering, how are we ever going to explore alternatives that will respond to the real needs of patients who have only death to look forward to? This borders on abandoning those whose need is greatest, and it violates fundamental principles of comfort care for the dying” (24).
It should not be frowned upon if a terminally ill person requests to die with what they feel is humane and dignified. Only they know what they are experiencing with their disease or illness, and if they cannot get any reprieve from their pain, it should be acceptable to request PAS. Michael Irwin, MPH, MD, expresses that: ‘The right to die should be a matter of personal choice. We are able to choose all kinds of things in life, from who we marry to what kind of work we do, and I think when one comes to the end of one’s life, whether you have a terminal illness or whether you’re elderly, you should have a choice about what happens to you… I’m pro-life – I want to live as long as I possibly can, but l also believe the law should be changed to let anyone with some severe medical condition that is causing unbearable symptoms have assisted suicide. I wouldn’t want to be unnecessarily kept alive against my own will’
The bottom line is the terminally ill are just as much human beings as the next person and want to have a say in what treatment they will consider necessary to prolong their life, but should also be aware of their options to end their lives if they feel that life-extending measures are no longer helpful. Legalizing physician-assisted suicide nationwide will give the terminally ill the choices they deserve so that they may live or die in a humane and dignified manner. They should not be forced to fight a battle of how unethical, immoral, or anti-religious it is but be given the right to decide what their best end-of-life result will be.
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