Terminally ill have right to die with dignity

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Royal Purple Staff Opinion

Oct. 20, 2015

California passed a bill last month that will allow physicians to prescribe life-ending medication to terminally ill patients, making it the fifth state to legalize physician-assisted suicide.

Four other states have already passed similar legislation, including Oregon, Vermont, Montana and Washington. California modeled its bill after Oregon’s “Death with Dignity Act.”

The act allows “terminally-ill patients to end their lives through the voluntary self-administration of lethal medications, expressly prescribed by a physician for that purpose.” The patients must also be “mentally competent,” meaning serious depression and other mental illnesses associated with terminal diagnoses should not play a role in their final decision. 

This legislation, we would argue, is an expression of the individual’s freedom of choice. In our home state of Wisconsin, as well as our nation as a whole, we celebrate the right to self-determination, and implementing the right to physician-assisted suicide would be an extension of that basic right.

We should look to our representatives in Wisconsin to pass similar legislation.

Assisted suicide legislation, however, has been met with swift opposition from disability rights advocates and religious conservatives, and their criticisms should not go unheard.

Some disability rights advocates claim that allowing physician-assisted suicide would subject thousands of ill, elderly and disabled peoples to unnecessary harm. They argue that these groups could be coerced into choosing assisted suicide over prolonging life for financial reasons.

The problem is combining cost-cutting “treatments” like assisted suicide with the cost-conscious health care system that we have in the United States. Secobarbital is the most commonly used drug in assisted suicide cases, and the medication costs less than $100.

Putting oneself in the place of an insurance company – less than $100 to suggest suicide or thousands upon thousands of dollars for irrelevant treatment – it’s easy to see how a patient’s humanity could be forsaken for cost-effective “treatment.”

At such low prices, assisted suicide could feel like the only option – especially for low-income or uninsured patients.

California’s bill, however, requires terminal patients considering assisted suicide must meet privately with doctors. This is to ensure that no patients are coerced into taking their own lives – especially for financial reasons.

Opponents of assisted suicide also raise points about palliative sedation. In all 50 states, it’s legal for terminal patients dying in pain to receive sedatives until their discomfort is relieved. Doctors make sure patients are in no pain and the dying process occurs peacefully.

However, suggesting palliative sedation while denying assisted suicide to the terminally ill would take away the patient’s right to choose. Palliative sedation should be an option, but it should not be the only option. Those faced with impending death should receive more than the option of sedation, and those who are not cognitively impaired should be granted the option of death as well.

Who are we to present the dying with only the option of sedation? By allowing palliative sedation to terminal patients without the option of death, we do nothing but prolong their anxieties and suffering, while numbing the mind into complacency and numbness over the reality of death.

That’s not moral or ethical.

The terminally ill have basic human rights just like the rest of us. Every day we get out of bed and we make the choice to live, and live as autonomous individuals in charge of our own futures. The terminally ill have had that choice taken away from them. They know that at some point in the near future, they will have no choices left but to die.

Who are we to deny them their last choice?

Terminal patients have their choice to live taken from them by their illnesses. The government should not be allowed to take their choice to die with dignity, by telling them how and when to die, as well.