Yes, I support death with dignity

deathwithdignity

I just watched a video on CNN about a terminally ill young woman, Brittany Maynard, 29, making a “death with dignity” decision. She has moved to Oregon, met all the legal requirements for residency and diagnosis, and obtained the drugs that will end her life at a time of her choosing.

It’s a tragedy for any person so young to learn she or he has a terminal illness, but it convinces me more than ever that death with dignity should be legal everywhere. It’s humane and compassionate and indisputably better than suffering the physical and emotional pain of weeks or months of dying with some relentless, unstoppable disease.

The story makes mention of the family’s reaction to Maynard’s decision and I got the impression the reporter thought the decision was questionable, that perhaps death with dignity is not a good idea. I strongly disagree. What right does anyone else have to tell me I must die naturally, no matter how much pain and suffering I might have to endure in the process? Who has more right than I to decide how I will die?

I can’t imagine the horror of being terminally ill and in great pain and being told I’ll just have to suffer for however long it takes. Imagine have to endure all kinds of unwanted medical intervention because doctors and family want to keep you alive and all you want to do is make your own choice. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t thought about it. How could I be 71 and not have thought about it? What a relief it would be to have those pills on hand and not have to worry about the pain, suffering, and loss of dignity.

The obvious problem is that so few aging seniors have the physical strength and financial means to pull up stakes and move to Oregon (or Washington or Vermont) just so they can qualify for a death with dignity. I’m aware of the many problems and objections, medical ethics, etc., but it doesn’t change my opinion that this should be an option for every mentally competent adult in every state.

20 comments

  1. I’m with you 100%. I turn 60 in a year and a half. I have been contemplating my end of days for years now. I want peace and comfort, if at all possible. Not heroics and not some well-intentioned but misguided sense of duty to “do no harm”.

    1. I’m with you. No extraordinary measures. I have a DNR order on file, but you know somebody won’t get the word and will try anyway. Just do the humane thing and let me go. We don’t let our pets linger and suffer. Why can’t we show the same compassion for each other?

  2. Just for the record, I oppose death. I always have, and I always will. To elaborate, if I may – just briefly – I oppose death in all its forms. I am against sudden death, long drawn out death, premature death, self-induced death, accidental death, on-purpose death, and even natural death. So it should not be a surprise that I also oppose dignified death.

    That is my position, and on this issue, I shall not waver.

    Thank you for your support.

  3. My wifes mother has Alzheimer’s, she doesn’t know or recognize anybody she also has cancer so I’ve been told for the past 4 or 5 years, (something I’m beginning to doubt). She cannot feed herself, she is unable to drink without assistance she has no control over her bodily functions whatsoever and she is in her 93 year and everything is done to prolong the agony.

    She should have been allowed to die years ago, I find that I can no longer go visit her in the war veterans home where she is waiting to die. Some 2-3 years ago I was informed that she had about 48 hours and all arrangemnets were put in place for the funeral, however instead of allowing her to die all efforts were made; successful obviously, to prolong her life and possible suffering.

    I get the impression that my wife and daughters and my sister and brothers in law all think that this is okay and they should keep her alive as long as possible. She will probably still be breathing after I’m dead and bottled.

    Frankly it disgusts me.

    1. Oh, Beari, I’m so sorry to hear that. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, to be too far gone to express your own desires and to have others making decisions for you that you might not want. I’ve got a Living Will and DNR orders, but you never know for sure if loved ones will abide by that or indulge their own desires to keep you alive as long as possible.

  4. A couple of years back I was seriously considering moving to Oregon, the area of Salem to be specific, and did a fair amount of research on both the area and the residency issues I would need to satisfy to be eligible for meeting the requirements for the ‘death with dignity’ law. Residency requirements were pretty standard so no issue there fortunately.

    I eventually became concerned with the specifics of the ‘death with dignity’ law. I wondered at what point does one’s presumed ‘death with dignity’ evolve simply into ‘physician assisted suicide’. Although some may not agree, I do see a distinction between the two terms. In Oregon’s law one of the items that has to be verified and certified by the attending physician is that the patient requesting life ending medication has a terminal illness and has less than six months to live. This was the hang up for me.

    If my quality of life is so limited that I am confined to a chair or bed and need assistance with bodily functions, then I am ready to go… no reservations what so ever! But, I cannot get any relief even through the ‘death with dignity’ law because even in that physical state I could live for years. So at that point I personally lose interest in what the law can do for me. It would seem that an individual like myself is simply looking for the ‘physician assisted suicide’ way out as opposed to being literally on their death bed. Food for thought at any rate.

    Just for informational purposes you might find some of the associated information quite interesting from this Oregon website specific to the “Death with Dignity” law. It was interesting to note that only 122 individuals died as a result of doctor prescribed medication in 2013. I thought it would be many more. You can also see the form you would complete and the one the doctor would have to complete. Again… interesting information.

    Death with Dignity Act

    1. I understand the distinction you are making, and certainly many of us might wish for a physician assisted suicide if in the condition you describe. That “less than 6 months to live” (as determined by two different doctors) is a tough provision and not nearly broad enough. But it’s better than nothing, and I do wish it would be implemented in all states. I just don’t see a lot of frail elderly people within 6 months of death being able to move to another state. Nor do I see many moving well in advance of a terminal diagnosis and leaving friends, family, and familiar surroundings behind — just to be in a state that allows death with dignity. Again, for so many reasons, it needs to be adopted in all states.

  5. My wife and I both have living wills and are in complete agreement with PT’s post about the desirability of physician-assisted suicide. However, this brings up an important question in my mind. If legal executions are so difficult and regularly botched, which they are, then how do doctors perform their assistance in such acts?

    I haven’t found any answer to that on the net, although there was one item indicating the growing popularity in the underground of inhaling helium. However, that means asphyxiation to me and would likely be terrifying in the process. But if that can be effectively combined with some type of sedation, then I wonder why the executioners aren’t using it? Anybody know?

    1. I imagine actual physician assisted suicide (as opposed to death with dignity) is a bit more of an underground situation where the doctors involved (if, in fact, any are) would not want to be widely known.

      I hadn’t heard about the helium thing. But the woman in the story was given some pills. I have no idea what they are, but it did occur to me that if they can provide a peaceful painless death for her, why couldn’t they do the same for condemned prisoners? What’s more, simply prescribing some pills is not as direct an involvement by the doctor as actually administering an IV drug cocktail as Dr. Kevorkian did. Medical ethics would probably still keep most doctors from getting involved in any way, but one has to ask where’s the line between prescribing death (ethically prohibited) and alleviating/ending suffering (even if it means death).

      As for executions, at least part of the problem is pharmaceutical companies not wanting it known that they’ve supplied the drugs used. They fear a negative backlash that would affect their reputations and possibly their sales. Yet it’s known that heavy overdoses of certain drugs will cause death and obviously there’s some drug or combination of drugs that’s being prescribed to death with dignity patients. I just can’t imagine why the same drugs couldn’t be used for executions. It really makes you wonder if someone, somewhere actually wants those condemned prisoners to suffer as they die …

      1. Perhaps the USA should join the rest of the so-called civilized countries of the world and ban capital punshment.

        As it stands the company you keep in regards to killing prisoners includes China and Saudi Arabia,.

        The only deterent that I can see is the convict being deterred from commiting any further crime because he/she is dead.

        The procedure that the US uses prior to the actual death of the convict is tantamount to slow torture in my opinion; at least when the British and Australians had capital punishment it was quick and clean thanks in part to the efforts of the Pierrepoint family of executioners.

        Albert P. probably holds the record for want of a better word of actually executing a murderer in 7 seconds from the time he entered the death cell to the drop! No last speeches just swift meciless execution.

        As for me I find capital punishment abhorrent but am in favour of euthanasia of the terminally sick.

        I believe that there are many doctors who are ready and willing to assist in easing the pain and suffering but are held back by archaic laws and religions from showing the compassion which first enduced them to take up their calling as doctors.

        1. Medical ethics are based on ancient philosophical ideas, but religion doesn’t usually enter the picture unless the individual doctor chooses to abide by the dictates of his or her personal religion. There are definitely laws in effect now that prohibit US doctors from being a party to suicide and while I understand how those originated, we now have three states that recognize it can be more compassionate to speed someone’s dying than to prolong their living. I’m hopeful that the rest of the nation will soon recognize this.

          I haven’t yet given up thinking that some particularly heinous crimes warrant the death penalty but I’d be the first to agree that the recently botched executions were inexcusable and unacceptable. The penalty is death, not torture.

  6. I agree with LordBeari. Police officers, witnesses, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, jurors — they’re all humans. Humans make mistakes. Sometimes, they make mistakes on purpose, but that’s a different matter. Meanwhile, it usually takes a decade or more to finally carry out the verdict. A lot of condemned prisoners die on “death row” of natural causes. Old age. Boredom.

    America’s obsession with the death penalty is barbaric and ridiculous at the same time, which most likely is why we still have it. If nothing else, it fits nicely with the national mood.

    1. The mistakes they make on purpose; does that not constitute murder should the covicted person be killed?

      If so should not the perpetrators of the conspiricy be tried and executed for murder in the first degree?

      Should not the persons who actually kill the innocent person be tried as accessories to the crime and be sentenced accordingly?

      They’re all guilty of some heinous crime.

      What a fine kettle of fish; or can of worms this opens up.

      Just as an aside; in NSW where I live the last execution took place in August 1939, the last PUBLIC execution took place in the USA in 1938,

      I find it astonishing that a so called civilized society performed a public execution as recently as 1936, (in my lifetime!) before an audience of some 20000 people, I say audience because it was a festive occasion with hot dog sellers doing a roaring trade I believe, and the event was classified for general exibition as children attended.

      Everybody must have had a great time, the executioner was drunk and couldn’t do his job so the sherriff had to do the job and being a woman she shrank from the task………………….

      TRUE! They perform public executions still in Saudi Arabia!

      ARE WE NOT BETTER THAN THIS?

    1. If the United States Supreme Court decided that the death penalty violates the constitutional prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment” (Amendment 8, 1789) – which is the direct descendant of the English Bill of Rights of 1689 – your questions would be moot.

      Only in America can lawyers persuade judges that deliberately killing someone is not cruel. “Are we not better than this?” No. Not even close. We are a nation of fools.

  7. Count me in with those who support “Death with Dignity” laws. Oregon has had seven years of experience with its measure, and I’m not aware of reports of significant problems. The restrictions Alan G. points out, however, seem much too tight. Something is better than nothing, I suppose. The 29-year-olds’ case was heart-rending and beautiful at the same time. Perhaps it will kindle more energetic support of legal changes in more states, even if a national change isn’t politically possible right now.

    1. Six months to live seems very restrictive to me, but as you note, it’s a start. And I’ve yet to read anywhere about what constitutes residency and how long it has to be before you see the doctors for a diagnosis/prognosis. I’d like to see this widely supported and legislated as soon as possible, but I doubt it’s even on the radar in most states.

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