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To Die or Not to Die That Really is the Question

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Imagine an absolute stranger advising you that you have a fatal illness that will eventually take your life and society believes you should just sit around, waiting to die.The topic on whether or not we should be allowed end of life options is a huge controversy in both the medical and legal fields today. To live or not to live is a well-known quote, but what happens when it becomes to die or not to die? People are given the freedom to choose to live, so why not give them the ability to choose to depart? Unquestionably death is inevitable, but why not give someone dying the right to choose when, where and how their life will end on their own terms. Each year, nearly 42% of Americans will have someone they know diagnosed with an illness that is fatal. Of those people, about 23% of those will face the issue of withholding treatment to sustain life.

Everyone is given the power to delegate what one wishes to do with their own beings, but what happens when someone comes to the end of their existence and must decide how to occupy ones last days? In a world where we value the right of life and living, we also must value the authority to die as well. If persons are allowed the option to withhold treatment to live “normal lives” until they eventually pass, then it is only fair that same person should be able to consider the decision to medically end their time before the actual suffering begins. In 1983, 25-year-old Nancy Cruzan was in a near fatal vehicular accident that unfortunately caused her to linger in a vegetative state and left to “live” on a ventilator for the rest of her time. With the topic of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide being somewhat an option, her family fought to secure the right to choose if she should have to keep up such a life.

This specific case became the centerpiece of the constitutional right to die and how a person should be qualified to leave this earth with dignity. Nancy’s parents battled the supreme court for nearly six months until a judgment was granted in their favor. Finally, after being on a ventilator for over eight years, Ms. Cruzan passed just twelve days after her parents won the authority to consider the constitutional decision on whether to remove her feeding tube. As a result, euthanasia was not a silent topic and the right to die became a real-life controversy. Nancy’s case was one of the first public times euthanasia had been brought up and tried at the supreme court level. This case alone ultimately started to peak interest for other alternative options for fatally ill medical patients and specifically, physician-assisted suicide. Physician-assisted suicides have been a never ending battle between patients, their doctors and the justice system.

The idea of whether people own the “right” to choose how to face their last days is a never ending contested battle. Of these physician-hastened deaths one name stands out above the rest and he was referred to as “Doctor Death”, Dr. Kevorkian.Dr. Jack Kevorkian is one of the most famous medical pathologist who helped dozens of sufferers use their right to die by aiding in medical aided self-murder. His very first documented assisted suicide was in 1990, with Janet Adkins, an Alzheimer patient. From there, he aided over 130 other patients throughout the 1990s and acknowledged their voice and right to choose when and how to end their own life. Even though Kevorkian was later tried and convicted of second degree murder and served an eight year prison sentence, he helped develop a platform for end of life options. Through some of Kevorkian’s work and in such cases like Nancy Cruzan, these helped pave the pathway for many states to set up the Death with Dignity Law.

This law legally addresses voluntary euthanasia and more specifically, legal physician-assisted suicide. The very first state to take on this law was Oregon and soon many others followed.In 1997, Oregon became the first state to vote on and pass the Death with Dignity Law. This law explicitly expresses that any adult (over the age of eighteen) who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness that will inevitably take one’s life within a six month time frame, can petition a prescription to aid them in legal medical suicide. This also accompanies the stipulation that there has to be at least two witnesses whom are unrelated, and of those must be another doctor who can certify and confirm their incurable illness. Once the first application is submitted and the patient has been verified by two other witnesses, they then are required to send a second request after the fifteen days required grace period in between applications. If at the conclusion of those fifteen obligatory days the patient still wishes to continue with the process on their own free, at that time they then send the request again for approval by the treating physician. If the sufferer is in the right state of mind, the doctor can in the last stage write the prescription for a drug to end their lives.

After the script has been granted and written for the patient, it is solely up to them to follow through with the medication or not. Nobody else is given the right to choose if they actually execute the medication, just the sufferer themselves. One of other biggest stipulations that go with the Death with Dignity Law beyond having a terminal illness (and being in the right state of mind and one’s own wish) is the patient must use the medicine completely on their own. If their body advances to a point where it can no longer be self-administered, then it cannot be given by another person (not even the treating physician or an immediate family member) and at that point in time the law becomes void. Since Oregon passed the very first Death with Dignity Law, it has helped pave the way for other states to follow. After Oregon voted to pass the Death with Dignity Law in 1994 (also called the aid-in-dying act or physician-assisted dying) six other states and two territories have followed. The six states that allow assisted deaths include California, Montana, Hawaii, Colorado, Vermont and of course, Oregon. The district of Columbia and Washington D.C. also have the aid-in-dying law in order, making a total of seven places with this statue. In the scheme of things having a total of six of the fifty states doesn’t seem like such a substantial impact, but never less, baby steps are still movement. Unpretentiously, there are inevitably two sides to any story: the pros and the cons.

Without question, the greatest opposing views for euthanasia and patient-assisted suicides are whether patients and doctors retain the right to give grounds to constitute such a call, such as ending one’s own life. More specifically the most substantial controversies in this law are based around legal and moral/ethical arguments. The fact that patients usually in the later stages of a terminal illness are seen to not mentally be competent to produce virtuously sound judgment, they cannot “competently” make a decision on whether they want to live or die. This alone brings up ground on to argue that these aid in dying techniques morally are unjust because of the nature of the patient’s mental status. Many people argue that suicide is morally wrong and still a form of murder. Our society today still condones suicide (especially pro-life activists and some religious groups) and feel we do not possess the right to choose between death and life.

Many pro-life activists have argued against this act to help preserve the right of life that we thrive for. They stand firm that humans are to experience ALL of the cycle of life and for the dying part of life to happen automatically rather than it be assisted. In a world where killing another is a crime, morally in assisted suicides they distinguish no difference between homicide and assisted-suicide. The role of doctors has inevitably been to put patients first and be the forefront advocates on saving as many lives as able and preventing as many lost lives as possible (the pursuit of life). With this specific situation where a physician is helping aid an ill person in ending their own life, that superficially goes against the “ethical” promises of them: to save lives and not take them. Even though in patient-assisted suicides, a medical practitioner is there to basically monitor the case, people still argue it’s a physician’s job to avoid a patient’s death not support it. Having a medical provider go against their job responsibilities not only brings up the issues of ethically challenging a doctor’s sworn mission, it also captures a legal aspect. Legally taking a life is nevertheless taking a life, whether it be to the patient’s hands or the doctors. If a defendant can get in trouble legally for killing another person, then if an additional individual assist, it presumably would stand the same grounds as aiding in murder and can also hold ground for some punishment in court. In a pro-choice world, a person is free to decide what they wish with their own lives, therefore backing up the argument for legal euthanasia. In a place such as here in the United States, we fight for a voice, to be granted our constitutional rights and to be heard.

Advocates for the support of aid-in-dying rights are contending for exactly that, a right to choose. Rather than deteriorating and living with insufferable pain, this law gives a person the opportunity to save themselves and their families from witnessing them literally die from the inside out. The Death with Dignity Law is more than a medical provider aiding a person to end their life (suicide), it gives the chance for the illness to not take over a patient but for them to take their own control back. If it is morally acceptable to euthanize sick and suffering animals, why not allow a human being to make that same decision for themselves? With this law, it explicitly executes a voice to those literally living to die. A person throughout their entire lives possesses the right to make choices that both better their quality of life and helps an individual to shape decisions that will ultimately better them. With physician-assisted suicides, a patient takes control. When an individual has a terminal illness, there are no cures and death is inevitable. With roper medical care and equipment you can prolong one’s life as long as the body will allow but it comes with a cost that will ultimately end the same, death. Terminal illnesses destroy a person from the inside out and in order to avoid the pain and suffering that ultimately comes along with illnesses like these, Death with Dignity grants a person the right to choose how and when they will die.

It is our human right to dictate the choices that secure the “sanctity of life’ and with this law, one is able to secure that same “sanctity” of death.No matter what there will always be contentions about legalizing euthanasia and more specifically, physician-assisted suicide. There are many reasons why considerable numbers believe that this law should and should not be allowed in the United States. But, the long-term reality is that the patients suffering ultimately should be the main overall concern. The bottom line is simple: patients with terminal illnesses wish to have control over their own lives, own bodies, and want to find comfort in leaving this world on their terms on their own time. The wants and desires of the ones suffering should be the paramount concern in all of this. America prides itself on the freedoms we have as citizens of this country and how these sovereignties make us stand out from other countries. If we are given the right to live, why not give us the authority to die? Every single day people all over the world are diagnosed with terminal illness and are expected to live each day just to die. We exist in a society that strongly addresses the sanctity of life, then, why not see the beauty in death as well? People have the power to live normal lives, and should ultimately uphold the same freedom to choose how their existence will end as well, once this ‘sanctity’ is compromised.

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