Physician-assisted suicide. These three words placed one after the other have caused heated debates around the world with every person having an opinion on the act, and I am now giving you my opinion. To start, let’s talk semantics. The legal definition of physician-assisted suicide varies from country to country, and there is another action called active euthanasia. Both are similar in that, when done properly, the end result is the same, but they differ in that physician-assisted suicide provides the means while active euthanasia actively administers lethal medicine. Legally, there are differences between the two, but for the purpose of discussion the differences are very hard to distinguish between.
In most countries, both acts are illegal. There are of course exceptions. In the US, cases such as those of Karen Ann Quinlan and Terri Schiavo have resulted in the states of Washington, Oregon, and Montana legalizing assisted suicide and active euthanasia. It is legal in the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany, Colombia, Switzerland, and Belgium, each country with different laws and criteria about when it is and is not legal. There are also a number of organizations that support assisted suicide and active euthanasia, such as Exit International, Dying with Dignity, Compassion and Choices, and Dignitas.
In arguments against assisted suicide and active euthanasia, there is concern that it could compromise the professional roles of health care providers if they benefit from the death of a patient. There are also concerns in how to decide if someone is mentally competent enough to make a decision like this. And of course there are religious reasons as to why these acts are looked down upon. But there are reasons as to why assisted suicide and active euthanasia are a benefit to society.
Active euthanasia emphasizes that choice is a fundamental principle in democracy. If the quality of life for a person is permanently compromised, is it not their own choice to end their suffering? Removing emotion and ethics and looking at this issue from a simply economic standpoint, it removes the wasted cost and time of doctors trying to keep patients alive when they would rather die . There already are things in place that are in a similar field to assisted suicide and active euthanasia, such as “do not resuscitate” orders where when someone dies, doctors are not allowed to bring them back even though it is the oath of a doctor to do everything to keep someone alive.
Now imagine yourself being eight years old again. You and your little brother/sister and mother are in the ICU. You hear machines beeping, other patients moaning in pain, the stifled crying of other people who have just lost their loved one. You are standing around a hospital bed with nothing but a thin plastic curtain to separate your most personal and private moments from complete strangers. You see your father with tubes snaking their way into his arms and down his throat. This is day four since he has been in ICU, straddling the fine line between life and death. You have never seen your parents cry, but your father is holding your stare and you see he is silently crying. You don’t understand what is happening but the only thing you do know is that it is terrible and you have never been so scared in your life. Suddenly, your father stops breathing, his eyes are dull, the machines start franticly beeping, a bone chilling shriek comes from your mother, and doctors roughly push you aside as they start to resuscitate your father. This was the beginning of the horrific seven year decline of my father’s life.
He may have been an older parent, with everyone confusing him for my grandfather, but he never acted his age. He would play tennis with me and my brother, take us out for long hikes in the mountains, take us to the rifle range and show us how to shoot; he even rode horses with us during our lessons.
After the first hospitalization, he never was himself. Slowly, he stopped doing the things he loved. The number of pills he had to take increased. The side effects became worse and worse. I literally watched my father die over the span of seven long years. During the last year, he was in so much pain and suffering so much he kept asking if he could end it and die. Before my family could all decide on it, he passed away in his sleep.
Watching how someone I love so dearly suffering like that for so long is why I support assisted suicide and active euthanasia. I believe that there should be criteria that must be met by each person requesting assisted suicide or active euthanasia, such as compromised quality of life, extreme suffering that cannot be eased, having a terminal illness, etc.
Each person has their own opinion on such a sensitive topic, and you can agree or disagree with me, but after having seen firsthand how much pain a person must endure for such a long time, I am in support of a person’s ability to choose a humane way of stopping the suffering of both the person and their family.