Death with Dignity, Is it possible? Nora BlakeBohecker College- Westerville English 241 Abstract Death with dignity, is it possible? It is a common belief that people should take control of their lives, therefore, should be also allowed to take control of our death? Can one have quality of life while dying? Who determines if we shall live or die and under what circumstances? Is the doctor’s only duty to keep you alive at all cost, or is it also assisting you in a death with dignity? Death with Dignity, Is it possible?
It is a common belief that people should take control of their lives. Therefore, should we also be allowed to take control of our death? “Strong family ties and powerful religious beliefs enforce conformity and discourage diversity and change. But modernization promotes a more rational scientific view that encourages diverse beliefs and behaviors” (J. Macionis, 2005). “Can one have quality of life while dying? If you asked the general population, many would certainly say no. Many fear that their dying will be marred by pain, suffering, and a limited quality of life” (Cohen, 1995). The guiding principle at the heart of the palliative care intervention is the notion of quality of life” (Cohen, 1995). But when does death occur? Typically, one would say when the heart stops beating, or any health care worker will say ‘when vital signs no longer can be obtained’. However, ask a terminally ill patient when death occurs, and the answer might be “when my quality of life ended” (patient A, personal communication, April 27, 2008). Quality of life or Quantity of life, do we have the right to choose? A person who is in a vegetative state, are they living or do they just exist?
Is it quality or quantity? People with incurable, debilitating diseases, suffering from great pain…. Again, is it quality or quantity? Who decides whether a life is worth saving or not? Many people say they would rather die than suffer in great pain, or to be suspended in a vegetative state. Should people have the right to decide when and how they will die? Should others, such as their families, doctors, the government, be able to decide for them? Is there a right to die with dignity? All people with incurable diseases have the right to refuse treatment that might prolong their lives.
Yet, they are unable to enlist the services of a doctor to bring about a quick death, even when circumstances such as suffering from excruciating pain, being bedridden, or sustained on life support, make death preferable to life. Even though the first duty of doctors and health care workers is to protect the patient’s life, empathy is also necessary. A doctor must take into consideration the patient’s illness, symptoms, physical and social environment, as well as their quality of life, or lack of. Let us consider Doctors themselves.
Doctors go to school primarily to learn how to save lives. However, it also makes them especially good at ending their own. “An estimated 300 to 400 U. S. doctors kill themselves each year” “And when the pain is too much, doctors have easy access to prescription drugs and a precise knowledge of both how the body works and the amount of a drug needed for an overdose to stop breathing and halt the heart” (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 2008). One could conclude then, even doctors who are trained to save lives, consider the quality of their lives over the quantity of years alive.
Dying, for most Americans, has become far more complicated then it once was. A century ago, most people who suffered from incurable diseases or acute illness would of died much sooner. However, with today’s modern medicine and technology, doctors are able to sustain life for a longer, undetermined length of time. This has created choices for the dying patient and their families. Those choices raise basic questions about human dignity and what constitutes a ‘good death’. Physicians continue to face a pointed dilemma. For over 2,000 years, the predominant responsibility of the physicians has not been to preserve life at all costs, but to serve the patient’s needs while respecting the patient’s autonomy and dignity” (American Medical Association, 2006). Euthanasia or the ‘right to die’ poses an ethical dilemma for many. Considered as an act of kindness and the right to die with dignity, it allows the person to have control of their lives up to the time of death. In addition, it spares the family from having to make a choice of when the terminally ill family member should die. We use euthanasia for our animals.
We have the ability to euthanize an animal that is suffering or has no quality of life, and society considers that the ‘kind thing to do’. Why then, is that kindness denied to people? “All physicians have access to neat, clean ways to commit suicide,” said Dr. Robert Lehmberg, a Little Rock, Ark. , surgeon who has battled depression and long considered suicide “an exit strategy if absolutely necessary” (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 2008). Perhaps one of the most important developments in recent years is the increasing emphasis placed on health care providers to contain cost.
In such a climate, euthanasia certainly could become a means of cost containment. “Physician-assisted suicide, if it became widespread, could become a profit-enhancing tool for big HMOs. Drugs in assisted suicide cost only about $40, but that it could take $40,000 to treat a patient properly so that they don’t want the choice of assisted suicide” (W. J. Smith, June 2006). This leads many to fear that legalized euthanasia would most likely progress to the stage where people, at a certain point, would be expected to volunteer to be killed.
Emotional and psychological pressures could become overpowering for the depressed or dependent people. If the choice of euthanasia is considered as good as a decision to receive care, will many feel guilty for not choosing death? “Financial considerations, added to the concern about ‘being a burden’, could serve as powerful forces that would lead a person to choose euthanasia or assisted suicide” (International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicides, January 2005).
Recently, a group of doctors compiled a list of who will or will not receive treatment or lifesaving care in the case of a disaster or pandemic outbreak. If you are older than 85, suffer from severe injuries from an accident, have mental impairment such as Alzheimer’s disease, or a chronic disease such as heart failure, COPD or unmanaged diabetes, treatment may be withheld from you. Not only can you not decide to end your own life on your terms, now others can decide it for you, only in different circumstances.
Is this fair? Who, if not you, has the right to determine if your life is worth saving or not, how much pain you can endure, or what the rest of your life will be? Is it only in certain situations that you will be allowed to die? Is this considered a death with dignity? In the United States, the majority of adults express support for giving dying people the right to choose to die with a physician’s help. “In 1994, Oregon passed a proposition to allow doctors to be able to help people who wanted to end their lives.
However, in 1997, the US Supreme Court overturned that decision, stating that under the US Constitution, there is no right to die” (WHO, 1997). On January 17, 2006, the Supreme Court ruled that the US attorney-general cannot use federal drug laws to try to stop the right-to-die movement. That ruling now allows for other states to move forward with their own proposed form of an assisted suicide law. What are the religious and moral questions here? For people in many faiths, these decisions touch on their most deeply held belief that life and death should be left to God, not human beings.
Are there other alternatives? Is euthanasia, the supposedly merciful killing of the terminally ill, an act of kindness prompted by a sense of mercy and respect for the individual’s wishes? On the other hand, is it an act of murder and a violation of the Hippocratic Oath? References World Federation of Right to Die Societies, Retrieved April 25, 2008 from http://www. worldrtd. net/resources. Death with Dignity National Center (2005) Oregon Death with Dignity Law, Retrieved April 25, 2008, from http://www. deathwithdignity. rg World Health Organization, retrieved April 22, 2008 from http://www. who. int/entity/mental_health/media/en/56. pdf Macionis, J. J. (2006). Society the basics. 8th edition, Kenyon College Prentice Hall Inc. American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, retrieved from http://www. afsp. org/ Tanner, L. (May 5, 2008) Who should MDs let die in a pandemic? Retrieved May 6, 2008, from http://news. yahoo. com/s/ap/20080505/ap_on_he_me/pandemic_rationing_care Tanner, L. (May 8, 2008) Medical know-how raises suicide risk for doctors.
Retrieved May 8, 2008, from http://news. yahoo. com/s/ap/20080505/ap_on_he_me/pandemic_rationing_care Herbert Hendin M. D. International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicides. [email protected] org Physician-Assisted Suicide in Oregon: A Medical Perspective. Retrieved from http://www. internationaltaskforce. org/ International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicides. (January, 2005) Assisted Suicide & Death with Dignity: Past, present and future. Retrieved May 15, 2008, from http://www. internationaltaskforce. rg/rpt2005_I. htm Smith, W. J. (June 2006). Discovery Institute. Bioethics. Testimony of Wesley J. Smith in Opposition to Legislation of Physician-Assisted Suicide in California (AB 651) Before the Senate Judiciary Committee “Informational Hearing,” June 20, 2006. Retrieved May 15, 2008 from http://www. discovery. org/scripts/viewDB/index. php? command=view&id=3619 Cohen, (1995). Center to improve the care of the dying. Quality of Dying. Retrieved April 25, 2008, from http://www. gwu. edu/~cicd/toolkit/Quality. htm