Creative Commons/ Knight Foundation U.S. Rep Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., addresses America's Digital Inclusion Summit at The Newseum, March 9, 2010.
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On May 21, California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra filed an appeal against Riverside County Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Ottolia’s ruling overturning the state’s physician-assisted suicide law. Should this have been done? Two of our staff writers weigh in on the issue.

CON

Written by Alexa Myles

When I think about physician assisted death, “Brave New World” comes to mind. The book’s famous dystopian government has a set death date for its citizens. To relieve people and society of the extra nurturing responsibilities needed for an older population, everyone is programmed to die before sixty. At a certain age, people go to the hospital and take numbing “happy” drugs until they die. Death and aging are no longer life events that inspire fear, they’re seen as mundane, bureaucratic events. This raises an important question: are the lives of vulnerable members of society who suffer the decline of physical and mental faculties still worth living? This question is a no-brainer for me: of course! But the government in “Brave New World” had made the decision that lives past a certain age were not worth preserving.

I’m simply using “Brave New World” as a frame of reference, not as a slippery slope argument; I’m aware physician assisted death is far from state-mandated death. There are many precautions in place. The patient must submit two oral requests 15 days apart and a written request to their physician, according to the 2015 End of Life Option Act. People seeking an aid-in-dying drug are usually suffering from a painful terminal disease. Patients want to have death with dignity, giving themselves rather than their diseases the power to determine how and when they will die.

I want those in insufferable pain to have this option, however I don’t want to live in a world in which family members and physicians are pressuring their loved ones into ending their lives. Seeking physician assisted death at a certain stage of illness should not be a social norm.

Also, I don’t like that The End of Life Option Act is a band-aid solution. It turns the focus away from improving a patient’s quality of life so that they don’t want to end their lives. According to the L.A. Times, the “reasons for choosing aid-in-dying were loss of autonomy (92%), being less able to engage in activities that made life enjoyable (90%) and burdening family or caregivers (41%).” The primary need is social support, not the legalization of aid-in-dying.

Richard Doerflinger, a Public Policy Fellow at the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture said in a Charlotte Lozier Institute interview,

“In states that have legalized assisted suicide, in fact, most patients request the lethal drugs not due to pain (or even fear of future pain), but due to concerns like ‘loss of dignity’ and ‘becoming a burden on others’ – attitudes that these laws encourage. The solution is to care for people in ways that assure them that they have dignity and it is a privilege, not a burden, to care for them as long as they live.”

The aim should be ultimately to lessen the number of physician-assisted deaths. Efforts should be primarily invested in making the end of life more livable.

“The doctor’s duty is to kill the pain – not the patient,” The Christian Medical & Dental Associations said in their article on why physician-assisted suicide should not be legal.

It doesn’t take a certain religious orientation to see that the role of physicians will have to change to accommodate this new law. Up until now, their goal has been to prevent death. They will have to re-write their Hippocratic Oath, which states the obligations and proper conduct of doctors includes a line prohibiting doctors from providing poison to kill someone.

Although one third of California, and the majority of its Democrats and Republicans support the law, it’s a complex issue. We would only be the fifth state in the nation to join. The medical community still approaches it as a taboo topic and physicians are split. The California Medical Assn. came out with a statement only a few years ago, and it reeks of self-reproach: “…despite the remarkable medical breakthroughs we’ve made and the world-class hospice or palliative care we can provide, it isn’t always enough.” I can understand why the Riverside Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Ottolia said on May 15 that the California Legislature violated the law by passing the End of Life Option Act.

“If we are seduced into legalizing assisted suicide, we will cheat at least some people out of the universe’s most precious and irreplaceable commodity: Time. Assisted suicide isn’t ‘choice;’ it is the end of all choices. Doctor prescribed death is not ‘death with dignity;’ it is really the euthanasia of hope,” Wesley Smith, a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism and legal consultant to the Patients Right Council said in a Noozhawk article.

I’m mainly concerned about the medical community turning their attention away from establishing the best hospice and palliative care. We don’t have that right now, so I can understand why physician-assisted-death should be an option. However, we should strive towards no longer needing it as an option. It needs to remain a last and worst option.

Towards the end of “Brave New World,” the main character, who is an outsider adapting to the utopian society, cries at his mother’s death bed. The nurse is disgusted at this show of affection, “as thought death were something terrible, as though anyone mattered as much as all that!” I was not raised in Brave New World’s society so I cannot except that people don’t matter. Death is tragic and people should never feel pressured to die before it’s their time.

 

PRO

Written by Ethan Axtell

Suicide is a controversial topic in almost every society. Contemporary United States is no exception, and the entire spectrum of positions on these issues are represented in this country.  Recently, those that hold the belief that suicide must be prevented at all costs scored a massive triumph when Judge Daniel Ottolia in California overturned the State’s law, which permits doctors to prescribe lethal doses of medication to terminally ill patients who do not wish to endure anymore pain or agony.

Interestingly, the bill was not overturned on moral grounds. Legally, the state legislation should not have passed the bill in the particular session that it did. According to NPR, Judge Ottalia argued, “California lawmakers should not have passed it during a special session on health care funding.”

Almost instantaneously, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed an appeal to challenge Judge Ottolia’s decision. Although this entire legal exchange appears to be based primarily on the details concerning valid and proper legislative proceedings, this episode does still redirect public attention to the morality of such a law.

Is suicide, the decision to take one’s life, a right deserving of recognition and protection? The most sensible position is yes, but much like any right it can be abused, mishandled, and obscured or legally nullified.

Suicide is a difficult act to accept or condone. This is primarily because the motivation for suicide is never completely clear since the innermost thoughts and trials of an individual are an exclusive domain and once someone is deceased, that domain is forever inaccessible. Even when a somewhat clear picture can be produced of why someone would take their own life, many of the living are not capable of accepting or appreciating any possible rationale.

This resistance to understanding why someone would commit suicide is not necessarily an indication of a lack of empathy. For those close to a suicide victim, guilt is almost a guarantee. Could something more have been done? Feeling personally responsible for neglecting or ignoring someone who obviously experienced considerable pain is a horrendous emotional state to occupy. Even if someone doesn’t feel responsible, they will still suffer a perpetual wound from losing someone close to them. The loss of a loved from a cause as seemingly preventable as suicide is a certainly motivation for hostility towards this act. However, is anyone mandated or should they be compelled, to live only for the comfort of others?

If you truly care about someone, then you must care enough to trust their feelings and decisions. It is the responsibility of friends of family to warn and counsel their loved one if they fear they are pursuing a self destructive path. Though at a certain point, it is cruel and tyrannical to compel someone in a particular manner or direction just because it may be pleasing to someone else’s  perspective and sensibilities. If someone has no desire to live and experiences pain and suffering that they are not equipped to or interested in enduring, why should they be denied the opportunity to end their suffering?

In the specific case of this bill, it is apparent that this piece of legislation was aimed at providing this opportunity to terminally ill patients. In fact, according to the Los Angeles Times, “In the first six months California’s law was in effect, more than 100 people made use of it to end their lives.” However, it does not encourage the decision and both patients and doctors alike should take this matter seriously.

Unstable or mentally degenerated patients should not be coerced into invoking this freedom. These sorts of patients should be scrutinized by doctors to ensure that they truly are capable of making this decision with a realistic concept of its weight. Although, they would not be abandoning much of a life if their mental faculties were already so tragically distant from peak health.

The question of the morality of such a law ultimately rests on one’s philosophy towards life. What is more important, the sanctity of life or the quality of life? Life is obviously an incomparable, valuable and rich experience. However, not all experiences in life are equally rewarding. People conduct themselves in whatever manner bests fulfills them or at the very least mitigates their discomfort. Everyone believes in the quality of life at least tacitly, otherwise there would be no rhyme or reason to how they behave.

The Declaration of Independence states unequivocally that all men, “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” It should be understood that this Declaration was made as a message to the British monarchy, expressing that the thirteen colonies were no longer willing to accept being ruled by an unjust autocrat. They were unwilling, because they knew there was nothing sacred about living under tyranny, nothing sacred about living in fear or pain, and nothing sacred about living in a condition where you can no longer pursue any meaningful form of happiness.

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