Euthanasia in the United States

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Euthanasia for the Elderly in the United States
Hannah Pate

An issue facing much of today’s elderly and terminally ill populations is that of euthanasia and physician assisted suicide. Several countries, most notably the Netherlands, has legalized euthanasia and physician assisted suicide leading to what is now referred to as “death tourism”. People from across the world are traveling to place with legalized euthanasia, like the Netherlands, in order to end their lives through assisted suicide.

Some political groups are now proposing that there should be a “right to die” so that those who are experiencing a painful terminal illness or debilitating condition could chose to end their life with assistance from a physician. In the past thirty years several court cases have arisen when patients requested active or passive euthanasia to be performed [8]. This, along with many other issues heavily affecting the elderly, are often ignored or forgotten by a media and society designed for the young and middle aged.

Details

In the realm of assisted suicide, there are three forms of euthanasia and the difference between these forms often is the deciding factor when a person resolves whether to support euthanasia or not. Euthanasia itself can be broken up into two different types, active euthanasia and passive euthanasia. Passive euthanasia is the most commonly accepted form. This is the form of euthanasia practiced when a physician, next-of-kin, or the patient themself decides to take a patient off of life support, thus allowing whatever disease or illness the patient has to take its course. This form of euthanasia is often seen through living wills. Active euthanasia on the other hand, in steeped in controversy due to the physician or other assistant actively killing the patient. Most often this comes in the form of an overdose of some sort of medicine. A subcategory of active euthanasia is physician assisted suicide. Physician assisted suicide (PAS) differs from euthanasia in that assisted suicide entails the patient self-administering the fatal chemical cocktail with the physician or assistant simply providing the means to do so. However, polls show that the American public makes very little distinction between active euthanasia and physician assisted suicide.

Often the reasons for an elderly person seeking euthanasia or physician assisted suicide are economic and emotional. Many elderly and terminally ill patients are faced with very high medical costs that can become a burden not only to themselves but also to their families. This happens especially when a person seeking euthanasia is from a low income household and has little to no health insurance to cover the cost of their medical care. Fear also plays a very large role in the decision for a patient to desire euthanasia [7]. With many elderly in the past century being tuck away into nursing homes and hospitals, a large majority of those persons now reaching an age where they must face a more immediate prospect of death do not view the process of death as the tail end of life, but as something shameful that must be hidden away. Due to this, many of the ailments that come with advanced age are often seen as undignified. Some elderly will request euthanasia or physician assisted suicide in order to avoid the perceived indignities [7]. However, many of these effects of old age, such as incontinence and frailty, are often perceived as a greater loss of dignity than is necessarily experienced by the frail patient. Another huge fear of elderly patients is that they will by abandoned by their friends and family, and die alone in some anonymous hospital bed. This fear is a result of the way in which the elderly are sent off to nursing homes at the end of their lives.

History

The earliest American statute outlawing assisted suicide and euthanasia was passes in 1828. Before this assisted suicide was seen as a “grievous… wrong” [5], but was not explicitly mentioned...
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