I was a naive 15-year-old who had barely started her sophomore year of high school when I learned about physician-assisted suicide. I first experienced this by watching Terry Pratchett’s documentary titled Choosing to Die. Every single moment captivated me as I went on this journey with Pratchett, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2007. He interviewed various subjects who were interested in assisted suicide, trying to find answers to his questions. My eyes filled with tears as I listened to the stories of people considering or had already gone through with euthanasia. I could relate to the fear of dying an excruciating and humiliating death, and the desire to end my life at the time of my choice. But like Pratchett, no matter how hard I tried, I could not justify some aspects of assisted dying. I was mortified that someone could throw their life away so frivolously. However, through more research I found that this was not a black & white issue like I had initially thought it was.
Over the years I have watched this issue grow and gain more traction in pop culture. A perfect example of this is the movie Me Before You. The plot deals with a quadriplegic man who has no desire to live anymore but is given a second chance at life when he falls in love with his caretaker. The movie seems like a basic love story until the end when the protagonist travels to Switzerland and kills himself. However, this topic is much bigger than a sappy romantic movie.
Physician-assisted death is legal in five USA states, Switzerland, Canada, the Netherlands, and Belgium. Physician-assisted means that the patient has to take the final action themselves, unlike voluntary euthanasia, which can be administered by a doctor. I will be writing about physician-assisted suicide since this is the most easily recognized form of euthanasia.
Quality of Life Argument:
Many who are opposed to euthanasia claim that it lessens the worth of a human life. If we are able to justify the deliberate end to our own life, they say, this would eventually cause euthanasia to become non-voluntary and a way to cut healthcare costs. Humans would become like animals and families would persuade loved ones to end their lives prematurely. Patients would feel that they had a duty to die.
The concerns are valid considering we already terminate the lives of millions of unwanted children every year without batting an eye. However, there is no way to validate this argument. Corporations like Dignitas, for example, have multiple regulations in place to protect patients who go through with the procedure. It is the patient’s choice, and the patient’s choice alone.
I am mainly concerned with how each country’s government would be able to consistently define “terminal”. A person who is considered terminally ill or in a hopeless situation but has a life expectancy of many years might be treated differently than a person who will die in a few months. Although many in hopeless situations have a longer life expectancy, people with multiple sclerosis for example, having the choice to pass away before their symptoms become unbearable might be a better alternative to unnecessarily prolonging their life.
Another important issue is how would someone would be able to gauge when a person’s quality of life starts to deteriorate. Every life is worthwhile and has intrinsic value, but I believe at a certain point that worth means the terminally ill should be able to choose a dignified death. This point is reached when a person feels extreme physical or psychological pain and is unable to live a normal life.
Dignity Vs. Quantity:
I have known many with terminal illnesses be able to live a happy and fulfilling life. However, they are still living with a painful illness that will eventually be the cause of their death. Many who wish to end their life sooner are forced to suffer while the illness ravages their body because they believe there is no other alternative.
The alternative that assisted death provides is dignity and the choice to prevent a painful death. Instead of fighting till the bitter end patients can die happy and in peace. Although the quality of life deteriorates as the patient’s illness progresses that does not mean the worth of the life lessens. Every person is different and many patient’s will choose life over a premature death. Ultimately the decision should be in the patient’s hands.
What Happened to Empathy?:
A point that supporters of assisted death often use is many opposed would euthanize a beloved pet before their quality of life lessens, but it is still illegal for humans to do the same. While it would be cruel to prolong an animal’s life when it is obviously suffering I am unsure if the issue is that simple when it comes to human life.
Before we judge a person’s actions, especially in cases of assisted death, we must try to understand why. To say that you would never consider assisted suicide is very easy, but it is a much more difficult task to face an undignified death and not consider taking your own life. I understand the disgusted feelings towards assisted death. However, I also empathize with patients who have chosen that over extreme suffering.
My Body, My Choice:
Not every patient will choose assisted death. In fact, many will be opposed. But that does not mean that everyone will be. If modern society wants to keep preaching the “my body, my choice” message I believe that should also be extended to include assisted death.
Why This Issue Matters:
This issue is a moral choice that everyone needs to understand and be educated about. Please learn as much as you can about physician-assisted suicide. Make sure you understand the issue in its entirety before picking a side.
Remember that the most dangerous decision you can make is one that is not well-informed. Thank you for reading.
By Sydney Jones