Editorial: It Should be Acceptable to Die with Dignity

Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, ALS… All diseases in which at one point or another you lose control of your body. Suicide is illegal, not to mention frowned upon by the common public. Many people view any form of suicide as cowardly and selfish, but what if you were in a position where you felt that there was no better option? Physician-assisted suicide is a very controversial topic; some see it as a way for one to “die with dignity” while others think it is a violation of a doctor’s duty. However, in reality, a doctor’s duty is to do something in the best interest of their patients. Isn’t “making someone comfortable for death” and not doing anything to help them survive the same thing as helping them die?

At some point, terminal patients reach a stage where they are completely trapped within their own body, and for many that is not a good quality of life. Not only does the patient feel enclosed and helpless, but it puts their family in a heart wrenching situation. What’s worse is that if someone knew that they were going to pass and wanted to die before they were incapacitated, they don’t have a dignified way to do this – if they commit suicide in secret, their legacy may be riddled with judgement and familial despair.

In 1997, Oregon passed a “Death with Dignity Act,” which means that terminally ill  patients can opt to end their lives with the assistance of a physician. As seen in the documentary How to Die in Oregon (2011), one man who was ailed with ALS chose to proceed with assisted suicide rather than spend his final days engulfed in his own limp body. To die in this manner, he had to go through extensive psychological evaluations to make sure that his decision to die was not due to some type of emotional imbalance or instability, and he had to be signed off by two or more physicians.

When the time came for him to actually die, the man got to eat his favorite foods, watch his favorite shows, and be surrounded by his family. He was not alone inside himself or in any emotional tailspin, but he was actually extremely happy, comfortable, and ready to escape the body that was causing him pain. For legal reasons, video tapes come on, doctors are present, and a cup is placed in front of the man. At this point his impending death is entirely his choice. They ask him again if he is okay with this decision. He picks up the cup and consumes the liquid which allows him to go in a peaceful and dignified way.

By having his choice and his consumption videotaped, there was substantial proof that it was his own account and doing. If there was any question that his death, or anyone else who participates in physician-assisted suicide’s death, is unethical or could be classified as murder, it could be proven as legal. It is 100 percent their choice and they undergo extensive research and discussions and exams before they can actually commit to this very serious thing.

Essentially, a patient that requests to proceed with physician- assisted suicide is asking for mercy, for someone to help them end their suffering in a respected and open manner. Death in these poeples’ circumstances is not something to fear or a word to cringe at, these patients know that it is inevitable. They realize that their suffering could get worse and that it would be better to die while happy, able to communicate, and surrounded by those they love. So how exactly is it murder or wrong to help end that anguish?

Although there is the worry that a patient may choose suicide for wrong reasons such as fear of being a burden to their family, there are many measures in place to prevent those types of situations. In reality, aiding an ailing patient in their death is beneficial and should be legal, as they do ask for this to happen, it is their choice. If evaluated psychologically, they should be free to make this choice, and those who do not agree simply do not need to participate in this type of situation. But who’s to say that one person can decide the outcome of someone else’s life if they are not experiencing their pain? Their death is at their own hand, it is their own responsibility, and it should be a respected and supported decision. Let them die with dignity.

The Editorial Board votes 8-1 that physician-assisted suicide should be legal in the state of California.