The Right To Die

Matthew Donnelly loved life but he wanted to die. Skin cancer was torturing his body. He had lost his nose, left hand, two fingers on his right hand, and part of his jaw. He was left blind and was slowly deteriorating (SCU). The pain was unbearable and doctors estimated that he had a year to live. Lying in bed with excruciating pain, he pleaded to be put out of his misery. Matthew wanted to die and his cries for help went unanswered. Then one night, Matthew’s brother Harold removed a .30 caliber pistol from his closet, walked to the hospital, and shot and killed his brother. Harold was tried for murder (SCU). Incidents like this are why we need physician assisted suicide. Changes and developments in medicine and technology have given us the power to save many lives. We are now able to cure or reduce the suffering of many people that have fatal or painful diseases. At the same time, medical technology helps us to prolong the lives of patients with excruciating pain and degenerating conditions. The law states that suicide is not a crime, but assisting in suicide is. Whether or not we as a society should pass laws legalizing assisted suicide has caused intense controversy. Assisted suicide should be a legal option for terminally ill patients because tremendous pain and suffering of patients can be saved, patients can die with dignity, health care costs can be reduced, and without physician-assisted suicide people may commit suicide in a traumatic way.

Numerous diseases such as certain types of cancer result in a slow, agonizing death. With physician assisted suicide, tremendous pain and suffering of patients can be avoided. The patient

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will no longer have to live with pain every day of their life. Doctors have enough knowledge to know when a patient’s days are numbered; consequently, the patient and his or her family should listen to what the doctor thinks is best. Imagine what it would be like to spend six months in excruciating pain: vomiting, coughing, headache, enduring pain spasms, inability to function without tubes, and inability to walk. Giving the patient an option to say when he has had enough not only saves the pain of the patient, but also the pain and anguish of the patient’s family and friends can be lessened, and they can say their final goodbyes. Allowing physician assisted suicide would lessen the pain and give some terminally ill patients better treatment. Horrible pain and suffering that some patients must go through prior to death could be done away with. Instead of a dragged out death that puts burdens on family members, families could say their goodbyes at a specified time (Quallich). Friends or family of the patient often suffer as much or more pain as the patient himself. It is difficult to see a loved one in such pain for so long. When the patient does eventually pass away, it is often sudden or it follows a period after the patient has lost consciousness. Assisted suicide would give the patient a chance to say his final goodbyes (Messerli).

 If physician assisted suicide were allowed, then other lives would be saved and health care costs would be lowered. Most people who pay health premiums have noticed a dramatic increase in costs over the last decade. Everyday there is a debate on how to provide cheaper prescription drugs and care for the uninsured. Consider how expensive it is to keep a dying patient alive for several months. They must pay for x-rays, lab tests, drugs, and medical

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staff salaries. Medical costs can reach anywhere from $50,000-100, 000 to keep some patients alive. The money could be better spent on patients that can be saved. If a patient chooses assisted suicide instead of a drawn out death, then medical staff would have more time to treat other patients. Understaffed hospitals have an increased rate of making mistakes which could cause a lesser quality of care for patients. Vital organs of the patients that are terminally ill could be used to save the lives of other patients. We have long waiting lists for hearts, kidneys, livers, and other organs that are critical to saving the lives of people who can be saved. It is not fair to the patients or the health care system to longer a dying patient’s life when they would rather die. Physician-assisted suicide allows doctors to preserve vital organs that can be donated to others. The needs of the living should be put ahead of the needs of the dying. By legalizing physician assisted suicide, hospitals would become more efficient, health care costs would be lowered, and other patients would be saved.

The assistance of a physician with suicide would mean that there would be less messy suicides. Some patients facing an irreversible disease take their own lives while they are still in reasonably good health, because they fear that if they wait, they will find themselves unable to do so. Some do this through shooting themselves in the head or overdosing on pills, and this can have significant negative impacts on those that the patient left behind. Knowing that assisted suicide would be available when they needed it would undoubtedly lead many incurably ill people to postpone ending their own lives because they will have to live their lives everyday thinking that they could have done more to save their loved ones. If doctor’s were allowed to participate in assisted suicides, then these traumatic suicides could be avoided. If you were a family member, which would be more traumatizing? A compassionate doctor-assisted suicide or

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a clumsy attempt like jumping off a building or coming home to see his head and brains splattered against the wall from a bullet? Unfortunately, if people truly want to die, nothing is going to stop them. If that is the case, then it should be done in a more compassionate and orderly way.

One of the most well known doctors is Dr. Jack Kevorkian. He has been known as “doctor death" since at least 1990. He is known for being a big supporter of physician assisted suicide. He became famous in the 1990s for his death machine, a device he invented that allowed a user to self-inject an anesthetic and then a lethal dose of potassium chloride. His initial assisted suicides led to a 1993 Michigan law that prohibited him from continuing, a law he openly defied in an effort to force the issue into the courts. In 1960, he proposed using condemned prisoners for medical experiments (NNDB). Dr. Kevorkian created a machine that would assist in suicide. Janet Adkins, a 54 year old with Alzheimer’s, was the first to test the device, and it worked. Kevorkian then provided services to at least 45 and possibly more satisfied customers(NNDB). In 1997, the U.S Supreme Court ruled that Americans who want to kill themselves have no constitutional right to do so. He challenged prosecutors to indict him, apparently hoping the trial would provide a showcase for arguing his cause (NY Times). But the judge blocked any testimony from family members who supported the death and disallowed evidence about the patient’s suffering and consent as irrelevant in a murder trial (NY Times). The jury found the doctor guilty of second-degree murder (NY Times). Kevorkian was sentenced to 10-25 years in prison, but was paroled in 2007, in failing health and nearing his own death (Keenan).

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A recent right-to-life case was the case of Terri Schiavo. In February of 1990 Terri

Schiavo collapsed at home at the age of 26. The oxygen was cut off to her brain for several minutes. Terri was severely brain damaged. She still could still breathe and maintain a heartbeat and blood pressure on her own. Her vision was impaired but she could see and move her limbs. She needed a feeding tube connected to her stomach to sustain her life. She was later diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state (known as PVS). Doctors believe that the cause of this vegetative state is a disastrous potassium deficiency that caused irreversible brain damage. Both Schiavo’s doctors and her court-appointed doctors expressed the opinion that there existed no hope of rehabilitation (NNDB). Her husband, Michael Schiavo told the court that he and Terri had talked about life support when her grandmother was in a nursing home, unconscious for weeks and on a ventilator. He testified that Terri had said, “If I ever have to be a burden to anybody, I don’t want to live like that (WND)". The feeding tubes were removed, after which Terri would slowly die of malnutrition and dehydration. By this time her husband had taken a new lover, but refused to divorce Terri because it would forfeit his right to determine her case. More than twenty times the Schiavo case was heard in Florida courts (NNDB). Every time, the court ruled that the decision was her husband’s to make. Terri’s parents refused to accept this verdict because they felt that their daughter would somehow recover. Politicians inserted themselves into the case. The case was grounds for Florida’s controversial “Terri’s Law", which gave the governor the authority to have Schiavo’s feeding tube reinserted. Many “save Terri" activists claimed that Terri had suffered a violent beating at her husband’s hand. Her parents eventually agreed, and said her husband often beat Schiavo when she was healthy but Schiavo never called the police. There is no evidence to support such claims. The U.S congress quickly

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passed legislation allowing federal courts to intervene, and President George W. Bush flew back to Washington to sign the bill into law (NNDB). Shiavo’s feeding tube was finally removed on March 18, 2005 and her heart stopped beating thirteen days later. The Terri Schiavo case is a very controversial one and it is a good example of how assisted-suicide can reduce a person’s pain and suffering.

Many faith groups within Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and other religions believe that Assisted Suicide is wrong. They believe that God gives life and therefore only God should take it away. Suicide would then be “considered as a rejection of God’s sovereignty and loving plan" (Robinson). There are many arguments offered by Christians, and other faiths, that advise against an individual seeking suicide. They say that Life is a gift from God and that “each individual is its steward." The only person who can give us the right to die is God (Boneque). He is the only final judge at the end and assisted suicide is messing with God’s work. Committing suicide is a sin but assisted suicide is the same as taking your own life. Christians are mostly against euthanasia (BBC). The arguments are usually based on the beliefs that life is given by God, and that human beings are made in God's image (BBC). Some churches also emphasize the importance of not interfering with the natural process of death (BBC). The Greek Orthodox Church is also opposed to suicide in any form and regards it as a grievous sin. The Lutheran Church also opposes suicide and euthanasia. In 1995, the Synod adopted a resolution that affirmed its objection "to medical personnel having any part in actively inducing death, even at the patient's request or at the request of the family (Harakas)". The Roman Catholic Church remains firmly opposed to both suicide and euthanasia as moral options. TheCatholic Encyclopedia entry on "suicide," published in 1912, describes suicide as a grave sin against God.

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It gives several reasons for this conclusion: Suicide implies the person is master of his body instead of God, shows a lack of charity for oneself, often leads to failures in parental or social duties or charity towards others, and is contrary to the natural instinct of all creatures for self-preservation. "That suicide is unlawful is the teaching of Holy Scripture and of the Church, which condemns the act as a most atrocious crime and, in hatred of the sin and to arouse the horror of its children, denies the suicide Christian burial (New Advent)". Most religions are strongly against assisted suicide.

On June 26, 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion saying that there is no right to physician-assisted dying under the 14th Amendment. It was in 1998 that the recent attempts to pass laws permitting physician aid in dying began. It is inhumane and cruel to make a suffering person who is about to die live longer than he or she wishes. Making someone die in a way that others approve is a horrifying contradiction of life; it is a devastating, odious form of tyranny (Dwarkin). Even though suicide is wrong in every way, physician-assisted suicide should be legalized. Assisted suicide should be a legal option for terminally ill patients because tremendous pain and suffering of patients can be saved, patients can die with dignity, health care costs can be reduced, and without physician-assisted suicide people may commit suicide in a traumatic way.