“My dream is that every terminally ill American has access to the choice to die on their own terms with dignity.”
These were the words of Brittany Maynard, a terminally ill brain cancer patient who decided to end her life through medically-assisted suicide under Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act. With the publicity of her story, Maynard created a dialogue about terminally ill patients’ right to end their lives peacefully on their own terms.
A similar bill in California, SB 128, or the End of Life Option Act, passed the state’s senate back in March. The law would give terminally ill patients, diagnosed by a physician, the right to lethal medication, according to the bill’s text.
Given that patients have to be diagnosed as terminally ill by a physician before they can even request a prescription and that patients must be “competent,” there should be no opposition towards the bill if this were a perfect world.
As tough as the decision to take one’s own life is, much less actually going through with it, the choice is ultimately up to the patient. Though their body may not be completely healthy, they still have the right to autonomy over their body, even if that results in death. Refusing patients their wishes, no matter how grim, is a violation of their sense of self-control over their lives.
Of course, this is a decision that not only affects the patient, but their family and friends. There’s no doubt that a family member explaining their planned death is an emotionally heavy topic to hear. However, it’s the patient’s decision to die with their dignity intact, to live their life to its fullest and end it before their condition worsens to the point of hardly living at all.
In a tremendously difficult situation such as a family member expressing their planned death, relatives and friends should show support rather than convincing the patient to reconsider. Respecting their decision and making every moment into a memory is the most appropriate response. Trying to change one’s mind only causes more pain than what they may already be experiencing.
By choosing to take their own life while they are fully aware of their condition, patients are saving their loved ones the possible pain of pulling the plug if they fall into a vegetative state. At least in this case, they consciously have control over their lives and keep the pressure of deciding whether or not ending life support is morally correct off their loved ones’ minds.
Enactment of the bill would be a step forward for California and hopefully create a domino effect across the nation. Currently, only Washington and Vermont have laws similar to the Death with Dignity Act while terminally ill patients “have a constitution right to obtain aid in dying” in New Mexico, according to Time. Montana does not have such a law, though doctors are protected from legal action in the event they write out a prescription for lethal drugs at a patient’s request.
For patients in the other 45 states, their only option to die through medically-assisted suicide is to travel to one of these five states. Now, that’s not an entirely realistic option; the time and money required to travel to these states puts further strain on patients and their families. Since patients have a limited amount of time left in the first place, leaving them to cross state borders takes away from time better spent with the people they care about most in a setting that makes them feel comfortable.
In order for this barrier to be broken down, the public needs to understand the struggles that these people are going through and advocate for a nationwide implementation of such a law. Of course, there will be opposition to this sort of move, just like any other topic that may be controversial in the slightest manner. But opponents need to ask themselves one question: isn’t it better to pass on with your sense of self-worth rather than death by a deteriorating body shutting itself off?
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