In 2007, Sixty-four-year-old California resident and terminally ill patient Louise Schaefer wrote a letter to the Sacramento Bee, explaining her anger at being considered suicidal after looking to seek assisted death. “All I am asking for is to have some choice over how I die. Portraying me as suicidal is disrespectful and hurtful to me and my loved ones. It adds insult to injury by dismissing all that I have already endured; the failed attempts for a cure, the progressive decline of my physical state and the anguish which has involved exhaustive reflection and contemplation leading me to this very personal and intimate decision about my own life and how I would like it to end.” Schaefer’s case is only one of many across the United States; many patients suffering from a terminal illness are searching for assistance in ending their lives peacefully.
In recent years, especially since Oregon’s assisted death law was approved in 1997, there has been controversy over the legalization of a terminally ill patient’s right to seek help from their doctors to end their lives. This allows physicians to prescribe life-ending medication to patients who are in pain and suffering due to their illness. If these patients are suffering, shouldn’t they deserve the right decide how and when they die?
According to the New York Times, a poll in 2015 showed that 70 percent of Americans support assisted death. However, it’s only legal in Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Vermont. This means that suffering terminally ill patients in other states have to move in order to receive life-ending medication. An example would be 29-year-old Brittany Maynard, whose story became widely publicized when, having discovered she’d developed incurable brain cancer, moved from California to Oregon in order to die on her own terms. Her family became involved in trying to pass a bill for assisted death in California. Maynard's experience with assisted death raises an important question: should the state you live in be able to dictate your freedom to die on your own terms?
Many argue that assisted dying is immoral and promotes suicide. In addition, they claim that assisted death laws pressure patients from low income families to end their lives, the price of their medical treatment being far greater than that of the medicine needed to end their life. However, George Eighmey, the vice president of the Death With Dignity movement, argues that “It’s always the loved ones who want the dying person to try one more round of chemo, one more treatment down in Mexico.”
It’s common knowledge that the United States Constitution grants us unalienable rights, such as the freedom of speech and religion. Shouldn’t we be granted the freedom of a dignified death if you are suffering from illness? Mark Leno, a supporter of the assisted death law, stated, “It allows for individual liberty and freedom, freedom of choice.” While doctor-assisted dying is legal in Switzerland, Belgium, and the Netherlands, where assisted dying now makes up about three percent of deaths, it is still unavailable to everyone in America.
How and when someone dies, especially someone suffering from terminal illness, is a decision that should be made by that person and their family. Despite many believing that assisted death is immoral, everyone should have control over their life. Stephen Hawking once said it was an “ultimate indignity” to keep someone alive against their wishes. When someone is faced with the prospect of facing either suffering due to a terminal illness or death, they deserve the right to choose.
Lovett, Ian. "California Legislature Approves Assisted Suicide." The New York Times. The New York Times, 11 Sept. 2015. Web. 07 Mar. 2016.
The Editorial Board. "Offering a Choice to the Terminally Ill." The New York Times. The New York Times, 14 Mar. 2015. Web. 07 Mar. 2016.
"The Right to Die." The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 27 June 2015. Web. 07 Mar. 2016.
Ubel, Peter. "A Debate On Death With Dignity." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2016.