Over 1,000 people are diagnosed with a terminal illness every day. After a diagnosis, they attend therapy with their family and receive prescription medication to help with their pain (Milan Stojanovic). However, as the illness progresses so does the pain, and the need for more medication rises. As the need for medication continues to rise, the patient experiences an overall loss in quality of life until death. An alternative to the loss of overall livelihood is a practice known as PAD, or Physician-Assisted Death, in which a licensed physician administers a lethal drug at the consent of the terminally ill patient. Physician-Assisted Death should be allowed across the country as it provides a way for the terminally ill to die of their own accord in a way that is absent of pain and that allows death with proper closure for them and their families.
Life for someone who is terminally ill is unforgiving. The odds of survival are slim, the pain that waits before death is often intolerable. This pain has lead to a suicide rate upwards of 10% in terminally ill cancer patients alone (Sean Marks). Suicide of any kind is not easy on families, especially when that family member was led to suicide as a way to cope with pain. Currently terminally ill patients are helped by the use of opioids and other painkillers; although they dull the pain, they also dull a patient’s responses to their family and life in general. Having to watch as a family member slowly loses coherence and sinks further and further into pain is something very few of us can imagine. Family members and patients should not have to experience such an unbearable situation. It is probable that a situation like this will stay with them for the rest of their lives, but PAD provides an alternative. While some might oppose this legalization of “suicide,” it is a much different story to the family members of these patients who know there is little hope for recovery. Currently 73% of Americans support the legalization of PAD (Jade Wood). They argue that we give this mercy to animals, but why not to humans? (A. Chapple). Animals who are suffering a painful life are given the mercy that comes when that pain is removed. It is an uncomfortable reality to think that, for some, death is better than continued life, but for those in immeasurable pain, it is their reality.
Physician-Assisted Death is, however, not just a proof of concept, it has been proven effective in states such as Colorado, Hawaii, and Oregon (Physician-Assisted Suicide Fast Facts, CNN). On October 27, 1997, Oregon enacted the Death with Dignity Act which legalized PAD in Oregon (“Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act”). The Oregon Government reported that the majority of requests for the drug stemmed from loss of autonomy, loss of dignity, and loss of enjoyment in life. Without the aspects of life that allow one to thrive, can it still be considered life? Many people would prefer to die knowing they have lived their life to the fullest extent without being controlled by an illness. This is why many terminally ill patients choose to end their suffering through PAD. Patients are able to choose when and where they take the drug, allowing them to be surrounded in their last moments by those they love. To many, this is a more pleasant alternative compared to dying alone whenever their illness finally takes hold. However, many propose that supporting PAD is really just supporting suicide, but this is not always the case. In Oregon, should a physician see fit, they are allowed to deny a patient’s access to the drug and prescribe therapy, instead. This makes sure that lethal drugs are not being abused and that people who have a chance at living comfortably are truly given one (Oregon Death with Dignity Act- 2018 Summary). This assures that the only ones receiving the drug are the patients who truly need it.
Despite all the benefits of PAD, many critics argue that something as great as life should not fall into the hands of someone who is in pain. They argue that this may corrupt Medical Practitioners whose vow says “nil nocere – do no harm” and that prescribing a patient a drug that allows them to die is doing harm to that patient (Ryan T. Anderson). However, the modern Hippocratic Oath has been modified and expanded greatly, saying “I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug,” (Louis Lasagna, Modern Physician’s Oath). The modern goal is to think of the patient and to do what is best for them, even if it isn’t necessarily the best choice for their physical health. In this oath, the well-being of the patient does not pertain only to physical health; the mental health is equally as important. Since the patient’s well-being is the overall concern, the physician’s priority is to provide the best possible care. This means looking into both physical and emotional health, and being able to empathise with the patient and their condition.
Humans are able to feel in such complex ways that their decision making skills can easily be affected by their emotions. This means that someone in pain might do everything they can to try and end that suffering. Their decisions may not have their best interests in mind, leading to misuse of opportunities such as PAD, but it is not entirely on the patients. As seen in Oregon, many restrictions are put in place that allow medical professionals to block a patient’s access to the drug. These professionals are also given the opportunity to prescribe alternatives to a patient, such as therapy, that can be given to patients who truly have not had the closure necessary to die, or to those who have a relatively good chance at survival, compared to other terminally ill.
While there may be instances in which PAD is allowed and Physicians deny it, there are also instances in which PAD is illegal and a Physician feels compelled to allow it due to a patient’s unlivable situation. Robert Klitzman reported, in his CNN article “The terminally ill should be allowed to die”, that a physician “…came to realize that, at a certain point, sadly, life may not be worth the immeasurable suffering of an unalterable disease.” When the issue took on a personal note, he was able to see the issue from the patient’s point of view. Once this physician, and many others, were able to see first hand the effects of a terminal illness, they could no longer ignore how painful this way of life was, and they even acknowledged that they would prefer to see an end to their suffering.
To the people across the nation with terminal illnesses, Physician-Assisted Death is an alternative to living the rest of their lives in misery. Thousands of people a year are afflicted by a terminal illness. Many will keep their illness for months on end, until their illness takes away their life. Although drugs may help to dull pain, they do not account for the emotional trauma felt by family members that are forced to watch as their loved one slowly fades away. Death with a terminal illness does not come easily or quickly. In most cases, it is long, drawn out, and undignifying. Patients lose their ability to do what they love in life and slowly lose the ability to remain coherent. For the family members and the patients themselves, it is not a peaceful way to die. Physician-Assisted Death allows for patients to die in a way that is comfortable for them and their loved ones. Death is not something that comes easily, and it is only worsened by pain that comes beforehand. With the approval of voluntary Physician-Assisted Death, we allow those who have already suffered enough to die in a humane and peaceful way, devoid of pain and surrounded by the ones they love.