Death with Dignity: Should it Be the Law in More States?

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“My Right to Death with Dignity at 29”

Within the past week, two essays have been prominent fixtures on newsfeeds and social media profiles.  The first essay, entitled:  “My Right to Death with Dignity at 29,” is by Brittany Maynard who was diagnosed with a brain tumor in January, 2014.  Over the ensuing months, she went through invasive brain surgeries only to find out that her tumor had come back.  Due to the aggressive nature of her tumor, her prognosis was deemed terminal and she was given six months to live.

rp_302277624_150_150.jpgAt this point, she was faced with two choices:  she could fight the cancer for as long as possible, which would mean enduring painful treatments and experiencing a severely diminished quality of life or she could opt for palliative and hospice care that would make her final days as comfortable as possible.  Either way, her family would have to watch her die and she would have to suffer through a drawn out death.

That is why she decided on a third option.  At just 29 years old, Maynard is choosing to end her own life, on her own terms.  She and her husband made the move to Oregon and began establishing residency so that she could take advantage of the state’s Death with Dignity Act, which allows terminally ill patients to end their lives with the help of doctor prescribed medication.

Who Qualifies Under the Death with Dignity Act?

In order to qualify, participants have to meet several important criteria:  He or she must be:

  1. 18 years or older
  2. a legal resident of Oregon
  3. capable of making and communicating health care decisions for him/herself
  4. diagnosed with a terminal illness that will lead to death within 6 months

At least two doctors must confirm that these criteria are being met before prescribing any medication.

As you can probably imagine, responses to her essay have ranged from supportive and sympathetic to hostile and full of condemnation.  The right to die is one of those issues that is deeply rooted in individual belief systems.  Religious influences play a significant role in how people feel about euthanasia.  While there are plenty of people who would not choose to end their own life, the real question is not what you would do as an individual, but whether you think others have the right to make that choice for themselves.

For me, Maynard presents a compelling argument and I would not want to deny her the right to die before her suffering becomes unbearable.  I cannot begin to imagine how her family feels about this decision and the reality of having to say goodbye so soon, but it must be of some comfort that their last memories of her won’t be in a hospital watching as she deteriorates and becomes a shell of her former self.

Although her body has betrayed her, she is taking control of the things she can and choosing how she spends her final moments.  It brings to mind a poem by A.E.Housman about dying young:

To An Athlete Dying Young

THE time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

To-day, the road all runners come, 5
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay, 10
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers 15
After earth has stopped the ears:

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man. 20

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head 25
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.

Emanuel‘Why I Hope to Die at 75″

The other article that has been making the rounds is “Why I Hope to Die at 75” by Ezekiel J. Emanuel.  While Emanuel focuses on age related health concerns, like Maynard, he recognizes the burden that health issues can place on family members and loved ones.  Click here to read his article and weigh in with your thoughts.

Currently, Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Vermont are the only states that have some form of a right to die law.  Do you think that more states should adopt similar laws and let people choose the manner of their death if they are diagnosed with a terminal illness?


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