Pro/Con: Do terminally ill patients have the right to die?

Cartoon by Carlie Gillespie

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Pro: Terminally ill patients have the right to terminate their own life 

On Nov. 1, 2014, 29-year-old Brittany Maynard took her own life with a pill. She died peacefully, surrounded by her family in her own home instead of losing her battle with cancer in a cold, sterile hospital room. Maynard’s decision to end her own life created a sense of dignity for her and her loved ones, a common experience for many who choose to go through with what is known as physician-assisted suicide.

Maynard was diagnosed with a stage four brain tumor in April and was told she had six months to live. Her tumor was so large that she would need full brain radiation.

“After months of research, my family and I reached a heartbreaking conclusion: There is no treatment that would save my life, and the recommended treatments would have destroyed the time I had left,” Maynard told a CNN reporter. “Because the rest of my body is young and healthy, I am likely to physically hang on for a long time. I probably would have suffered in hospice care for weeks or even months, and my family would have had to watch that.”

So that she could spend the finals months of her life doing what she loved with her family, Maynard and her husband moved from California to Oregon to take advantage of the state’s physician-assisted suicide, or euthanasia, laws. These laws allow those who are terminally ill to end their lives painlessly with the help of a physician. Only four states currently allow for health care centers to provide terminally ill patients with assistance with euthanasia. North Carolina is not one of these states.

With the legalization of assisted-suicide throughout the United States, far fewer terminally ill patients would die in unbearable pain and without dignity. They would be able to live the last days and weeks of their lives in a way they choose.

It is wrong for parents to have to watch their children linger in pain when medical professionals cannot provide a cure or remedy. In August 2014, a French couple asked doctors to allow their child to be euthanized after being born four months premature. If kept alive, the baby would be completely paralyzed on one side. Though the procedure is not currently legal in France and the couple’s request was denied, assisted-suicide for children has recently become legal in Belgium.

Without assisted suicide, many people die long and painful deaths in places where they may not be comfortable or may not be able to see their families. With assisted suicide, though, these people can die with dignity, feeling fulfilled and comforted.

By MaryKent Wolff


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Con: Terminally ill patients don’t have the right to terminate their own life 

Terminally ill with glioblastoma, a rare brain cancer, 29-year-old Brittany Maynard was faced with the agonizing decision of choosing between fighting the futile battle with cancer or ending her life. Maynard, an advocate for death with dignity, requested and received lethal medication that she later ingested, taking her life.

Maynard’s story is tragic. Either path that she could have chosen to take would have been heartbreaking. But her recent decision to die raised a difficult-to-answer question: Do we have the right to die?

Euthanasia advocates describe assisted suicide as an option for “mentally competent, terminally ill patients” facing suffering. The idea is to give people power over their lives and dying on their own terms. But contrary to its intended purpose of self-empowerment, the mere existence of the fatal medication can pressure the disabled, depressed, elderly and sick to prematurely end their lives. Patients would be prone to lose the will to live or see death as the best option for the financial stability of their families. Euthanasia cuts treatment costs and therefore gives insurance companies and doctors the incentive to pressure the seriously ill to consider assisted suicide.

Although assisted suicide is not intended for people who are merely depressed, little is being done to prevent the drugs from getting in the hands of the suicidal. In Washington and Oregon, where physician-assisted suicide is legal, there are no requirements that patients receive psychological evaluation or treatment prior to receiving lethal drugs. In 2010, only one out of 65 patients in Oregon who died as a result of physician-assisted suicide was referred for psychiatric or psychological counseling.

Americans value human life. The religious and non-religious alike mourn the death of their loved ones. In times of tragedy, regardless of our differences, we as citizens band together to support those in trouble. We give our time, money, blood and tears for the sake of another life.

We don’t always realize how special this unity is. Life is sacred. We see countries on the news with exceedingly low life expectancies because of poverty and disease. History has shown extremist movements that have portrayed human life as expendable and no more than a political resource. We as Americans have been raised to believe differently, and suicide destroys the life we work so hard to preserve.

Assisted suicide is a slippery slope. Imperative precautions as safeguards for patients are not being taken. Under the current, careless procedure these drugs could so easily get into the wrong hands. Lethal medication will be dealt across the nation and abused. Even those who legally receive the medication may take it under the assumption that they will die soon, when most live long passed their diagnosed death date without pain due to misdiagnosis. We also have to take account of the life saving medical miracles that occur every day. Life is precious and should not be disposed of so casually.

By Katie Farina


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