Timberlake: Legalize euthanasia


Photo courtesy of Thinstock

Opinion: Timberlake 10/19

Ian Timberlake

According to the Death with Dignity Act passed in Oregon in 1994, physicians are allowed to assist in the death of their patient provided circumstances fall within the bounds of a six month terminal illness and strict codes of compliance. The vote margin was narrow, 51/49, ushering in the first of three states to legalize euthanasia: Oregon, Washington and Montana.

Argued against by the George W. Bush Administration and upheld by the Supreme Court as recent as 2006, Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act remains.

The moral debate is not new. The ancient Greeks, such as Socrates, philosophized the question and even practiced the act of “hastening death” more than 2,000 years ago. Other philosophers, such as Hippocrates, opposed euthanasia, and strong opposition came from that of Jewish and Christian dignitaries, such as Thomas Aquinas and Augustine. This is where we get the Hippocratic oath, which is still the oath all physicians take to practice medicine ethically.

In modern times, this debate becomes messy. In nearly all of the United States, family members and nearest kin are allowed to make a decision to “pull the plug” on the life-support of a person in an unrecoverable vegetative state; they are not biologically dead. I don’t need to explain Terri Schiavo.

Yet when a person is on a timeline of irreversible imminent death, knows this, and is in a state of severe physical pain, often bound to a hospital bed, they are not legally allowed to choose the time with which to pass.

In Oregon, the proceedings for physician-assisted suicide are as follows:

First, a terminally diagnosed patient given six months to live may give a written request to their physician to end their own life. Second, the inquisition is required by law to be under voluntary patient request. Third, any physician given the request by the patient may decline the request for any reason. Fourth, a two-witness confirmation is required by unrelated and nonentitled persons. Fifth, the physician must determine the patient to lack mental disorder. Sixth, an outside physician is required to review the case file and give approval.

At least 15 days later, this process is repeated. Finally, under protection by law, the physician is capable of prescribing life-ending “medication.”

Ending your own life is not always unreasonable. A soldier is commended for throwing himself on a grenade to save the lives of his fellow comrades. Prisoners of war knowingly get tortured and shot upon refusal to divulge information and become heroes. The U.S. government has prescribed L-pills or cyanide tablets in the event an operative is captured. Pushing a loved one out of the way of an oncoming train while knowing you will, in turn, get hit is the ultimate self-sacrifice.

Known as “altruistic suicide,” this is suicide that’s for the greater good of the community. Realistically, the final result for the individual is the same as all other suicides, self-induced death. The moment someone wishes upon euthanasia in order to terminate a guaranteed long, painful death, the government and society deem it selfish and nearly amoral.

It seems like another needless form of government control on its citizens, arguably unconstitutional as early as the Preamble. This is a freedom I wish to have, and should the conditions arise (knock on wood), I will be one of the many seniors who illegally commits suicide because their state won’t entitle them to a dignified death. Euthanasia will never become obligatory, and it is absolutely not a method to “snuff out” the country’s disabled and elderly as Iowa’s Right to Life organization claims.

In late 2010, over 10,000 physicians were surveyed by Medscape in regards to “end-of-life dilemmas,” including three questions about euthanasia:

“Would you ever recommend or give life-sustaining therapy when you judged that it was futile?” 23.6 percent said “yes;” 39 percent said “no,” and 39.4 percent said, “It depends.”

“Would you ever consider halting life-sustaining therapy because the family demands it even if you believed that it was premature?” 16.3 percent said “yes;” 54.5 percent said “no,” and 29.2 percent said, “It depends.” An assessment of moral character, question two, shows a high Hippocratic morality that most physicians are either “no” or “It depends.”

The final question was, “Should physician-assisted suicide be allowed in some cases?” 45.8 percent said “yes;” 40.7 percent said “no,” and 13.5 percent said, “It depends.”

According to this survey, it appears that most physicians are in favor of some form of life-ending action, given certain circumstances- hence the high number of “no” and “It depends” answers in the first question and the majority saying “yes” to the last.

Euthanasia is a right that should be granted to every citizen. Everyone has the right to life, and given the right circumstances, everyone should have the right to die peacefully.