A patient should be allowed his own choice on whether he or she would like to end their own life, given they meet the prerequisites of making this choice. These prerequisites should be that the patient is in deteriorating health, is diagnosed with a terminal illness with a 6 month or less timetable for death, and is still mentally competent to make the decision. It’s a logical choice that can be made by a person who knows they are going to die and doesn’t wish to endure the combination of physical pain they are in and the emotional pain that comes with waiting for one’s mortality to run out. I don’t believe that it is a person’s right to take their life just because they want to cease to live. However I do believe that a person is justified to say that he or she doesn’t wish to go through the pain of living with the physical pain of the body dying along with the knowledge of the impending death that they face. Facing that kind of an inevitability is torture and cruel in and of itself.
The PAD laws in Montana, Oregon and Washington establish the rights for doctor to participate in assisted suicides by allowing the physicians to prescribe unusually high amounts of medication, usually a lethal dosage, to patients who are terminally ill and wish to end their own lives. The exact guideline are that, “In both states, the Death with Dignity Act has strict patient eligibility criteria, limiting access to competent, legal residents of the state over age 18, with a terminal illness (defined as an estimated life expectancy of 6 months or less) that is confirmed by two independent physicians. There is a requirement for two oral requests with a 15-day waiting period in between, as well as a written request that must be witnessed. Prescriptions may be written no less than 48 hours after the receipt of the written request.” (B) The only problem with these laws is that only those who can administer the drug themselves can take this path. Those too weak to administer the drugs themselves are forced to wait out the inevitability of their last days, suffering through any physical pain they may have to endure as well as the mental pain of knowing they are going to die with no control of their own fates.
The concern that legal euthanasia would begin the devaluing of human life is a real threat that I recognize while writing this paper. Some would say that making it legal would just open the door to a Pandora’s Box of legalizing death that much of society just isn’t ready to deal with. But in trying to value humanity, the society is acting inhumanely. What is wrong with allowing someone living their last days out, who is in major pain as they continue to live, to just die peacefully in their sleep? Why do we allow them to suffer on when the choice of allowing the terminally ill to pass on peacefully could be available to allow them to have some control of what they want to do? Is it really more inhumane to put someone to a silent rest in their sleep then allowing them to suffer through pain day after day? Euthanasia doesn’t take away our humanity as many opponents fear, but in fact helps us as a society become more humane.
The case for euthanasia legalization is one that has many pros and many cons, but many of the cons can be negated and neutralized if the proper steps were taken. It is a hot button topic that should again be looked at and taken into question if the process is truly wrong to do. But from my own personal feelings and opinions, I see potential for a system to be in place to help people who wish to escape pain without having to let the natural order of things take its course. The right of the patient to choose what is in their best interest, the precedent set forth by the PAD laws in the three states already, and the question of humanity that comes with it are main issues that have to be addressed when bringing this topic to light. I see it as a way for people to escape the pain and to shorten the inevitable, and I find that to be more compassionate than allowing them to struggle with pain for the rest of their lives, however short they may be. No matter if someone is an opponent to euthanasia or not, one can always agree that the last thing someone would want is to see someone suffer on before the inevitability of death. That is a much crueler fate one can receive. Sources
(A) Quill TE, Cassel CK, Meier DE, Care of the hopelessly ill: Proposed Clinical Criteria for Physician-Assisted Suicide. New England Journal of Medicine 1992;327:1380-1384. (B) http://depts.washington.edu/bioethx/topics/pad.html#ques8 (University of Washington Department of Medicine site)