The downfalls of “choice” in today’s argument of euthanasia can take us on a rollercoaster ride of emotions, and leave even the most head-strong person staggering in their steps. There are many social, moral and political reasons for standpoints people have taken over the years when it comes to physician assisted suicide. I personally have found myself in a quandary, stuck between my religious beliefs and the strong feeling of importance for people who are suffering to have some control over their own body.
Stories of peaceful departure are echoed by pro-choice supporters, noting how much suffering was ended as a result of the controversial topic. One recent story speaks of a man in Portland, Oregon who was terminally ill with lung and brain cancer. The story describes how he ate a bowl of apple sauce that was laced with barbiturates. Ninety minutes later, with his wife by his side, the 52-year old died peacefully. According to his wife, when he took the drugs his body was ready and he fell deeply asleep, almost immediately.
In 1997, Oregon passed a state law legalizing physician assisted suicide. A resident of Oregon who has been determined mentally competent by two doctors and has less than six months to live can request prescription medication for the purpose of ending his or her life. However, a physician may not administer the drug. The vast majority of physician-assisted deaths occur in patients’ homes, nursing homes or hospices. Those opposing this law expected masses to flood the Oregon healthcare system when the law passed. It never happened. Since the Oregon “Death With Dignity” act in 1997, 208 patients have committed suicide with assistance from a physician. Approximately equal amounts of the 208 were men and women. Seventy percent of these people had malignant cancer, eighty-six percent were enrolled in a hospice program and ninety-eight percent of these people were white.
When former US Attorney General John Ashcroft, challenged the Oregon law in 2001 he was defeated by a 6-3 vote by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Oregon law depended largely on whether state or the federal government should control how doctors do their work. But for most people, including the judges, the bigger question was whether doctors ought to help people end their lives. Poll figures show that two out of every three Americans support the right to euthanasia. Opponents to Oregon’s law insist that it is simply legalized murder. Others see the law as appropriate, giving dying patients a much-needed choice when heroic medical procedures cannot help.
The miracle of today’s modern medicine now walks a very fine line between doing things because they are possible and doing things because they are needed. In our lifetime the greatest advances in healthcare have not been medical breakthroughs or miracle cures, but the rise of the informed consumer. People no longer sit quietly by as doctors’ offer up care plans. Now we have learned to question, research and compare to other sources information that was previously considered to be the only true answer, when it came from the mouths of these trained professionals.
Recently the questions of euthanasia were cast to the forefront with the release of Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby.” This box-office hit spotlighted the controversial topic with its dark surprise ending. Insisting the movie did not tilt one way or another, but portraying the assisted suicide as the ultimate gift of love triggered activist groups across the country to protest. These groups called attention to the idea that life in a wheelchair or hospital bed can’t be worth living.
While the general US population shows overwhelming support for physician-assisted suicide, there remains significant opposition from doctors nation-wide. According to Mark Taylor (2006), of Modern Healthcare, “more than one-third of doctors recently surveyed oppose it.”(Mark Taylor) The American Medical Association’s standpoint is that physician-assisted suicide is “inconsistent” with the physician’s professional role. Their policies continue to state that dying patients should be provided with aggressive comfort-care measures. Requests for assisted suicide indicate the patient’s needs are unmet. So far, hospitals and insurers have chosen to stay out of the debate, but eventually will be expected to weigh in.
Although ending pain and suffering has been used as reasoning for physician-assisted suicide since this argument began, this may not be an accurate justification. I can’t help but call attention to how easy it is to feel sympathy for people who are suffering from degenerative diseases. We create in our own mind a storyline painting a picture of such a person who could not possibly want