Being entirely consumed and trapped by an illness for the remainder of your life is parallel to living a nightmare. Unfortunately, such a nightmare is reality for many patients across the United States. My grandfather (pictured) was diagnosed with cancer of the spinal cord and battled for five years. Two of those years he was confined to bed. He went through chemotherapy and was told the tumor was shrinking only to find out, on a major visit to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, that the doctors had been inaccurately reading his check up results. The tumor was only growing. The reality of this nightmare was fully comprehended by my mother (pictured) once her dad was called to the front-lines of battle against cancer. My mother talks of how there came a point where she could slowly see the energy and zeal for life draining from my granddad’s eyes, his once wholesome sense of being entirely consumed by fatigue. Weakness slowly became the strongest trait she saw in him. He had once been so strong and capable of seamlessly overcoming any challenge life presented.
Such a battle takes a toll on any soldier. Family watching from the sidelines struggles with their inability to lace up their boots and step up to the front lines to help. But what happens when your loved one decides that they have soldiered on as long as they could, fought with all they have and wish to peacefully exit their life and family on Earth? What are the patient’s options and rights as an individual? These questions are contemplated frequently among the field of medicine and families like mine. A patient should be able to call the shots freely, as they wish, once they have been summoned into battle with an illness as my grandfather was.
The legal standpoint is of major concern for many people who discuss the topic of physician-assisted suicide. In the late 90s, Oregon adopted the Death with Dignity Act. This act provides a rigorous clearing process for patients who wish to receive PAS as an alternative to their illness. During this process, the patient must request PAS as an alternative both verbally and in writing with a 15 day waiting period in between the requests. The patient’s illness or diagnosis must adhere the patient to a limited life expectancy of six months. They also must undergo a mental health evaluation to ensure they are mentally stable and able to make clear decisions pertaining to their treatment. In addition, the patient is made fully aware of other alternatives such as hospice or home care. By completing this process and obeying these guidelines, the physician who facilitates the assisted suicide is safe from persecution (Chin et al. 577). Through all these restrictions, the entire process protects not only the physician but also the patient making the process completely legally safeguarded. Legality has been clearly established. The “go” has been given to the government to further develop legalization nation-wide.
Another valid point in the argument is human control over life versus fate and destiny. John Lachs, a Philosophy Professor and Vanderbilt and Ph.D., states it best when he says, “The human race has pronounced judgment on this theory long ago by happily taking control of human life, extending and shortening it according to what seems sensible and good at any given time” (205). Those who side with fate over human-control have simply overlooked what man has done in science and medicine. With advances in cell research, medicinal exploration and scientific experiments that exceed the supposed impossible, humans have undoubtedly taken on an authoritative role in deciding what dies, what lives and for how long. Physician-assisted suicide is not any different from what humans have already been doing in research for the past decade.
Some argue that the Hippocratic Oath provides reason to not legalize physician-assisted suicide. The Hippocratic Oath presents physicians as professionals who should swear to never kill as a means of cure. Although the Oath has been upheld through centuries of medicine, it is entirely unrealistic to assume the Oath will defy change as advancements are made in our medical world. Nikola Biller-Adorno, M.D., Ph.D, states that, “The role of physicians is not simply to preserve life but also to apply expertise and skills to help improve their patients’ health or alleviate their suffering” (1451). As more resources, like physician-assisted suicide, become available, a doctor should present all possible options to their patients. The act of “preser[ving] life” not only involves curing patients when a cure is attainable, but also includes protecting the quality of life of patients. If a cure is not available by any means of treatment, physician-assisted suicide should be available as a safeguard to the individual’s quality of life.
My mother wishes that the option of PAS would have been available for my granddad. The last memories of him are those of pain and defeat. If physician assisted suicide would have been available, he would have potentially died sooner but the last memories of him would not be so somber. PAS would have given him a sense of dignity in his death by providing him with the choice of dying when he wished and not letting the illness decide for him. While being trapped and fully consumed by a life-altering illness is an undeniable nightmare, the alternative of physician-assisted suicide is undoubtedly the ultimate saving grace. Until it becomes readily available for all individuals… hoo-rah. Soldier on, soldiers.
Biller-Adorno, Nikola. “Physician-Assisted Suicide Should Be Permitted.” New England Journal of Medicine. 368 (2013): 1450-52. Web. 24 Sep. 2013.
Chin, Arthur E, Katrina Hedberg, Grant K Higginson, and David W Fleming. “Legalized Physician-Assisted Suicide-The First Year.” New England Journal of Medicine. 342 (2000): 577-604. Web. 25 Sep. 2013.
Lachs, John, and Patrick Lee. “Is Physician-Assisted Suicide Ever Ethical?.” Trans. Array Contemporary Debates in Bioethics. UK: John-Wiley & Sons, 2014. 197-228. Print.