The opinions expressed in this article do not represent the opinions of the Excelsior.
By Gabriel Pariente
Published: November 11, 2014
First, do no harm: the creed every doctor must live by when they become certified and enter the profession. Doctors must do everything in their power to aid their patients in fighting diseases, and, as per this Hippocratic oath, swear not to do anything to intentionally harm their patients. However, this moral code has been questioned by some who feel that terminally patients in pain have the right to tell the doctor that they want to die, and I believe this is a question that must finally be confronted. We as humans have the choice to make many life decisions, like determine our careers, whether we marry, where we live, and how we want to raise our children. Brittany Maynard—a young woman who chose to end her life rather than facing continuous suffering from terminal brain cancer, and spend her last fleeting moments angry, miserable, and bitter to her friends, family, and world around her—exercised her right to make decisions as a sound, independent human being. Human beings have the ability to choose the course of their lives, and by the same measure should have control over how they choose to end their lives, if the situation calls for it.
As mentioned in the Mashable article What are Death With Dignity laws?, three states in the US have Death with Dignity laws passed, which give patients the right to ask doctors to prescribe life-ending medication. Critics of these laws, in the case of Maynard’s “assisted suicide,” argue that they will encourage more people to choose to end their lives and can often be triggered by elder abuse or a sense of burden sick patients may feel they’re putting on family and loved ones. Others feel that people who are terminally ill are not in the right shape of mind to make decisions like this, and Death with Dignity laws don’t protect doctors who sometimes err in making their prognoses due to human error. According to NBC.com, the Roman Catholic Church and others have come out against Maynard’s decision, saying that euthanasia, along with assisted suicide, is “a bad thing because it is saying no to life and to everything it means with respect to our mission in the world and towards those around us.” The church argues that life begins at the point of conception, and should only end when our bodies give out naturally. I’m not arguing against the church, and they do make the valid point that life is the most cherished aspect of humanity and it brings joy and happiness not only to loved ones, but to others who are influenced by the actions of these individuals over the course of their lives. But the point they seem to be missing is what kind of life a terminally ill person has.
They must live on medications, and often suffer from indescribable amounts of pain due to their illnesses. A CNN.com story shows how these people can’t do anything that brings them joy, are often mentally incapacitated by the amounts of pain they go through and the flood of medications that are shoved down their throats just to buy them an extra few years of life. As they get sicker, many often develop other illness like depression or dementia and no longer recognize their loved ones, and often fly into psychotic rages—which I have witnessed—due to the pain and agony they experience. Maybe medicine will buy them five, 10, or 15 years, but for what? Years of pain, misery, and anguish for the individuals and their loved ones.
Mashable.com highlights how the Death with Dignity laws make it clear that one must be 18 or older to ask a doctor for life-ending medication, must be mentally competent, and two physicians must agree that the patient has a terminal illness that will end their lives within 6 months. It can’t be used as an alternate form of suicide, like some claim, and it does protect doctors, as it ensures there must be a universal agreement on the patient’s condition before treatment can be given. I can understand why many doctors oppose euthanasia and assisted-suicide—because it goes against their morals of always helping, not harming, their patients. However, in my view, when someone is suffering from a terminal illness that is slowly robbing them of everything, then the truly humane thing to do, if the patient tells the doctor they want to do so, is put an end to their misery and let them rest in peace.
We all love our loved ones and want to keep them with us for as long as physically possible. But sometimes, the greatest measure of one’s love is to allow someone they care about to truly be let go, and not have to suffer anymore. We all need to take a step back in this case, and remember that just as we humans have the right to choose how we live our lives, we also have the same right to choose how we end it.