In 1994, Oregon was the first state to express the legalization of Physician-Assisted Suicide (PAS) with the voters approving Measure 16 which subsequently enacted Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, also referred to as Physician-Assisted Dying (PAD). Implementation of the Act was put on hold, however, due to an injunction but was eventually lifted in 1997.
List of Pros of the Death with Dignity Act
1. It gives a person the right to die.
Proponents say that a terminally ill person who wants to end his or her suffering has the right to choose whenever he or she wants to die and should be spared from excruciating pain caused by the illness. They add that this is the same as a person’s right to live, get married, have children and refuse medical treatment if he or she deem appropriate. If the state prohibits this, it is similar to curtailing a person’s right to liberty.
2. It ends a dying person’s end-of-life suffering.
Advocates of this Act say that people who are suffering from terminal illnesses are looking for individuals like Jack Kevorkian to end their misery. They believe that Americans should be given the right not to suffer in connection to the European Declaration of Human Rights. For them, not allowing a dying person with sound mind to put an end to suffering is a criminal act with equal bearing with taking a person’s life without his or her permission.
3. It gives an individual self-autonomy in terms of making decisions about one’s life as opposed to withdrawing life support of a dying patient.
Proponents of PAD express that with this practice, a person is given the right to decide on his or her own if he or she wants to stop prolonging his suffering by being on life support which does not really cure or improve quality of life. They also added that putting someone on life support without consent is far worse.
4. It does not replace end-of-life care.
Allowing a person with terminal illness who has six months to live to spend the last days doing things he or she loves, choosing when he or she wants to die and dying in the comfort of his or her home, surrounded by loved ones is what the Die with Dignity Act entails. Patients can still have palliative care but not in a hospital, if this is what he or she prefers.
List of Cons of the Death with Dignity Act
1. It goes against the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm.
Opponents of the Act say that prescribing medication that will cause the death of a person, regardless if the individual had asked for it is against the Hippocratic Oath, particularly the part where it states, “I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it nor will I make a suggestion to this effect”.
2. It will force dying patients to end life for fear of being a burden to family.
There are patients who have been diagnosed with long-term illnesses and elderly people alike who feel their loved ones are suffering from taking care of them as well as from financial crises for the expenses they incur from hospitalization and continuous care. With a law allowing for choosing one’s time of death, these patients or elderly might feel guilty and would want to just end their loves so as not to be a burden to their families. This issue, along with some concerns about family members coercing a terminally ill patient to request for PAD, is also one of the reasons why some people oppose the Dignity of Dying Act.
3. It is morally unethical.
Opposition against the Act also come from religious and moral leaders who believe that taking the life of someone or aiding a person to end his or life is not morally correct and go against the doctrine of the Catholic church, in particular. For religious and moral advocates, life is a gift from God, which mankind does not have dominion over.
4. It can be abused for monetary gains by unscrupulous individuals.
By making it legally lawful for a physician to prescribed lethal drugs to any person who is of legal age and is competent, family members who have vested interest might fool a dying patient to sign the document even without his or her understanding just so they can get their inheritance.
What Does Physician-Assisted Dying Mean?
This refers to a physician prescribing medication with lethal dose to a terminally ill patient who wishes to end his or suffering by dying at a time he or she prefers. Here, the patient will be the one administering the medication at a time he or she chooses. Before it became a law in Oregon, it was referred to as Physician-Assisted Suicide (PAS). However, some groups did not approve of the term, arguing that a person who commits suicide is regarded as an individual with impaired judgment. A terminally ill patient, on the contrary, still has sound judgment but prefers to end his or her. Therefore, the former is someone who needs intervention to stop him or her to commit suicide while a dying patient should be supported on his or her will to end suffering.
There are at least five states in the United States that support the Death with Dignity Act either as an enacted law or a ruling of court. Oregon, Washington and Vermont states made the Act a law in 1997, 2009 and 2013, respectively while the state of New Mexico sees it as a constitutional right of a dying patient to request for lethal dose of medication following a court ruling by a judge in 2014. The state of Montana, on the other hand, does not have a law which is pro PAD but acknowledges that a physician is not to be charged for prescribing a lethal medication to a patient who requests for one.
The on-going debate has been present for years now, although according to some reports, more Americans are now expressing their approval on allowing a terminally ill patient dignified death. Different issues have been raised ethically, morally and legally with both proponents and opponents stating their views on the advantages and disadvantages of the Act.
Whether the Death with Dignity Act is for protecting one’s right to self-autonomy or a case of abuse, there will always be contentions about the issue. There will be varying points of view from people. The pros and cons of this Act is an unending debate. In the end, it is still the individual who knows what he or she believes in.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.