Friday, February 19, 2010

Why Physician Assisted Suicide Has Been Legalized

Yesterday I wrote about Ludwig Minelli and Dignitas, an organization is Switzerland devoted to helping people die. Euthanasia is a subject I wrote about in the early nineties when Dr. Kevorkian was a hot topic in the news. Physicians have always wrestled with the ethical issues surrounding terminal health care, but with technical advances in modern medicine many new questions have arisen.

Some things have changed since I wrote those articles in '92. One is that suicide or attempting suicide in North America is no longer against the law. If you fail to die when you jump off a building, at least you don't have to worry about also going to court.

In addition, three states have now passed laws permitting physician assisted suicide. Oregon's law went into effect in 1997, the first in this country. Washington passed its own "Death with Dignity" bill the following year. And on the very last day of 2009 Montana's Supreme Court handed down a decision that legalized physician assisted suicide in that state.

California, Maine and Michigan have all experienced failed ballot inititiatives and 75 legislative attempts were defeated in 21 states.

When you get into reading all the literature on this topic, there are four primary arguments for legalizing physician-assisted suicide. Here's how I summarized them in my article The Pros and Cons of Doctor Assisted Suicide.*

l. The Mercy Argument, which states that the immense pain and indignity of prolonged suffering cannot be ignored. We are being inhumane to force people to continue suffering in this way.

2. The Patient's Right to Self-determination. Patient empowerment has been a trend for more than twenty-five years. "It's my life, my pain. Why can't I get the treatment I want?"

3. The Economics Argument, which notes that the cost of keeping people alive is exceedingly high. Who's footing the bill for the ten thousand people being sustained in a persistent vegetative state? Aren't we wasting precious resources when an already used up life is prolonged unnecessarily?

4. The Reality Argument runs like this: "Let's face it, people are already doing it."

The combined effect of these four arguments is persuasive. And many people I talk to have been persuaded by them. They can't imagine why we have waited so long to make this an alternative treatment option. The need for legalized physician-assisted suicide is self-evident, they conclude.

On the other hand, whenever I have presented the arguments in opposition to these apparently self-evident truths, I invariably hear an "A-ha!" and an "Oh!" and "Well, I never considered..."

If able, please bookmark this page and re-visit my site tomorrow for the other side of the story.

*Published in the Truth Seeker (Volume 121 No. 5)

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