Death with Dignity

February 10, 2014

This is a post that I hesitate to write because of the strong emotions and opinions I believe it might elicit from readers. However, as I searched through articles to write about in this blog, I kept coming back to this one. I believe the potential changes in policy surrounding this subject warrant the scrutiny of my colleagues (who are currently my fellow classmates), whom I respect and immensely enjoy learning from both in and out of the classroom.

Another reason this post is difficult for me to write is because it is tied up with so many personal stories from my family. Policies often do not affect people emotionally until they have had a personal connection, or seen what it can look like in real life.

In the article, “ ‘Aid in Dying’ Movement Takes Hold in Some States, ” a man named Robert Mitton, who is dying from a heart condition that will be terminal without a radical surgery, is asking for the right to “die with dignity,” a right that he says “should be a basic human right” (Eckholm, 2014, para 9). The topic of physician assisted suicide is by no means new to the American public. Going back to the case of Terry Schaivo in 2003, the subject received prolonged national coverage (Roig-Franzia, 2005). Since then, five states have implemented laws making it legal to aid terminally ill persons in ending their lives (Eckholm, 2014). Arguments over differences between aiding terminally ill persons in ending their lives and ending life support in persons in a chronic vegetative state can be made. However, similarities in the policy making them both legal are obvious.

“ ‘Aid in Dying’ Movement Takes Hold in Some States, ” cites the advocacy group Compassion & Choices as drawing a distinction between those seeking a “dignified death” and those seeking suicide, by classifying those seeking suicide as those who have mental problems (Eckholm, 2014). OxfordDictionaries.com defines suicide as “the action of killing oneself intentionally”(Suicide, 2014). I fail to see how a person being terminally ill and possibly having their families’ support alters this definition of suicide.

I agree with Mr. Mitton that people should be able to “die with dignity” (Eckholm, 2014), I simply disagree with his definition of this phrase and am alarmed at the implications that adopting laws making his definition of a dignified death legal in the United States could have on terminally ill patients and their families. The danger in advocating for people’s rights is a lack of education on what some of those rights could mean, and in how many people’s rights you could be taking away.

Picture, for instance, an elderly man in the hospital for the twentieth time, dying from kidney failure. He has no family to support him or to consult with, and his well-meaning doctor mentions the possibility of assisted dying as an option for care because it is now legal in his state. Picture a right for him to be informed that assisted dying is an option. This elderly man, who has every right to every medical help until he draws his last breath, is alone and worried about his mortgage payment and the debts he knows he is unable to pay. He is afraid of dying, and does not really want to die, even though he is sick, but feels that under the circumstances he does not have the right to ask to live. Suddenly, through the normalization of assisted dying, he is made to feel that he is putting others out by asking to live.

elderly-man-lying-in-hospital-bed

I believe that persons who are suffering from illness, are often not operating under their normal mental state, and might have trouble remaining positive in the midst of their illness, or being able to picture what their life might look like if they actually come out of their illness. Offering an alternative of assisted dying is offering very weak and possibly sad and depressed persons a route to give up. How many people would suggest that a college student struggling with grades give up and quit college altogether? Or how many people would tell a child struggling to read or learn math that there is an option where they can give up?

The article talks about the dignity of the person, dignity in death, etcetera. My fear is that we will or have become so obsessed with respecting people’s individual rights, that we forget to fight for life, and forget to really scrutinize new policies before we implement them. I am not necessarily arguing that someone should be forced to have life-saving treatment that they do not want to have. There is an enormous difference between being forced to seek life-saving treatment, and being allowed to seek life-ending treatment. What I AM arguing is that there is potential for more harm than good with laws allowing physicians to help persons die.

Eckholm, E. (2014). ‘Aid in dying’ Movement takes hold in some states. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/  08/us/easing-terminal-patients-path-to-death-legally.html?&_r=0

Roig-Franzia, Manuel. (2005). Long legal battle over as Schaivo dies: Florida case expected to factor into laws for end-of-life rights. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A15423-2005Mar31.html

Suicide. (2014). Oxford Dictionaries.com. Retrieved April 20, 2014, from http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/suicide?q=suicide

 

 

 

 

 

2 Responses to “Death with Dignity”

  1. Gaynor Yancey said:

    Adreanne~thank you for writing about this topic! About 20 years ago when I was first an adjunct professor at Eastern University in Philadelphia, I shared with students that within 10 years, we would be dealing with policies, full blown, related to euthanasia/dignified dying/whatever the word or phrase would be in the future. The future is now as your blog so readily reveals. I am struck again by our movement as a society to not knowing how to handle pain and grief and loss well. Then again, we may truly know how… Of course, dying with dignity also may be considered as one of the unintended considerations of the strides that have been made in medical science that helps prolong our lives. Your blog reminds me of that struggle to live. I wonder if it may be that our science advances have helped us live longer than our original life course. These are all such interesting thoughts that your blog has brought to my mind.



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