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Dying with dignity – Physician-assisted suicide in the U.S.

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Beginning as early as 1906, the controversial social topic of physician-assisted suicide (PAS) in the United States has sparked debate, talk and government intervention. It was not until the 1990s, however, that this practice became even more talked about on the news, media and in federal and state governments.

One of the most famous PAS cases of the 90s involved a notorious pathologist and assisted suicide activist, Dr. Jack Kevorkian. Kevorkian, also identified as Dr. Death, was well-known for assisting in the deaths of nearly 130 terminally-ill patients. As Americans gathered around their televisions on Sunday, Nov. 22, 1998, viewers were not prepared for what they were about to witness. Kevorkian not only assisted in the suicide of a requesting Lou Gehrig’s disease patient, Thomas Youk, he also videotaped the procedure which led to his death and then sent the videotape to “60 Minutes”. The videotape led to questions regarding ethics in the medical world and responsibilities of the media. With much questioning and debate, Kevorkian was charged with second-degree murder and spent eight years in prison (even though he was sentenced for 10 to 25 years).

A controversial practice

Since Kevorkian’s assistance in the death of terminally-ill patients in the 90s, many patients with terminal illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) and brain cancer, have pursued taking their lives through this practice. Out of 50 states, only five have legalized PAS. Through state law, California, Oregon, Vermont and Washington legally allow terminally-ill patients, who are predicted to live up to six months, the right to choose PAS as an option to end their lives. Through a court decision, Montana also provides this option to terminally ill patients who are projected to live six months or less. Though each state has its own rules and procedures, PAS is a suitable option for those who do not want to endure pain, suffering and costly medical expenses that untreatable diseases and illnesses could cause.

“What the patient wants is my first priority if I were a physician. If they feel that it’s the best choice for them, then [PAS] is ethical to me. Although the patients have the right to choose how they want to end their lives, I do not think I’d have it in me, personally, to lethally inject them,” said Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) president and
senior Jordyn James.

Because PAS is a controversial practice that questions medical ethics, social and moral principles and even religious beliefs, many terminally-ill patients are hesitant in pursuing this practice as a way out of their pain and suffering. However, PAS has been sought after by hundreds of terminally-ill patients in the U.S. One of the most recent cases of PAS involved a woman named Betsy Davis, 41.

On June 9, 2016, the End of Life Option Act took effect in California. Davis, an artist and San Diego resident, passed away on July 24, 2016, becoming one of the first Californians to take her life through PAS. Unlike other PAS cases, Davis’ case was unique. Invitations to attend a two-day party were sent out by Davis in early July. As Davis wrote out all of the invitations to her close friends and family, one of the things Davis detailed to her guests was, “These circumstances are unlike any party you have attended before, requiring emotional stamina, centeredness and openness.” Davis also stated in the invitations that the only rule at the party was no one could cry in front of her. At the party, Davis’ family and friends celebrated her life, ate her favorite pizza, enjoyed cocktails, watched one of her favorite movies and listened to and played music. When the festivities waned to an end, all of Davis’ friends and family hugged, kissed and said their final ‘goodbyes’ to Davis as she was heading into her final moments of life. To put an end to all of Davis’ pain and suffering from ALS, Davis’ physician administered a lethal injection.

Like any controversial topic, there are always going to be “haters” and people who hold strong opposing views. In Davis’ case, both positive and negative comments were shared on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.Reading these comments was unbearable. Not many individuals have the courage, strength and positivity Davis had. Instead of putting her down and shaming her and her family for condoning her choice to die, society should praise her for her bravery and positive outlook
on life.

“If I were a terminally-ill patient, I would consider physician-assisted suicide as an option so I would not have to suffer and be in pain. However, I would also want to spend as much time with my family and loved ones. I do not think physician-assisted suicide is an option I would personally choose,” explained senior Jordan Block.

A less expensive alternative

When it comes to paying for hospital stays, treatment, such as radiology and chemotherapy, surgeries, etc., medical bills can become very expensive. To some, paying for these costly medical expenditures is almost financially impossible. PAS is a beneficial option to those who are terminally-ill and cannot afford to pay expensive medical needs.

“I believe PAS is an appropriate option for those who cannot afford to pay costly medical expenses,” said junior Jacob Alderman.

Why do only five out of 50 states allow PAS? Why does the government have a say in how one chooses to live their life and how they choose to end it? Those who are suffering from untreatable illnesses, have less than six months left to live, or do not have the money to pay for their medical bills and expenses should not have to endure more pain and suffering. Terminally-ill patients like Betsy Davis should be able to say their final ‘goodbyes’ and celebrate their lives rather than miserably count down the days until they die. No one should have to live their final moments in pain and sorrow. Instead, one should be able to die with dignity.

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Dying with dignity – Physician-assisted suicide in the U.S.