*This is part 2 in our 3 part series. For part 1 CLICK HERE*
This may be the year where a pivotal change occurs in the debate on physician assisted death and euthanasia. Currently legal in 5 states, legislation is being brought up in other states and the topic is on the minds of millions. Canada passed bill C-41 in June allowing assisted dying after decades of debate. This was preceded by the province of Quebec passing its own laws in 2013.
Many polls show that the majority of Canadians and a strong percentage of Americans support the Right to Die. Yet many religious groups, patient rights organizations and doctors oppose it. That is a discussion for part 3 of our series but for now, what is assisted dying & euthanasia and what are their benefits? Let’s find out.
The Right to Die: End of Life is a Fundamental Right
What is the Difference Between Physician Assisted Death & Euthanasia?
There are differences between the two practices, even if they are often lumped together. Euthanasia refers to the intentional killing of an individual to relieve pain. This can be actively done through the taking of medication or lethal injection or passively done by not eating and allowing oneself to die. Assisted death is when someone else provides an individual with information and help to take their own life. Physician assisted death is done with the help of a doctor for this exact purpose.
The Patients’ Pain and Suffering Will End
Anyone who has dealt with the terminal illness or impending death of a loved one knows the pain they can go through at the end of life. The pragmatic reason behind assisted death legislation is that as a society it is our duty to lessen the pain and suffering of others. Why prolong the life of someone who no longer wants to live when that life will be filled with pain? This is a dignified death where the patient knows that the choice to end their life was theirs.
Healthcare Costs Can Be Reduced
While some studies have suggested that the cost savings for assisted dying and euthanasia would be minimal in North America, these studies have often had to infer how many people would actually end their lives instead of relying on reliable information (this is because it is currently illegal in most places and so researchers sometimes have to guess). Even a reduction of .1% in medical costs in the United States nonetheless results in a yearly saving of over 600 million dollars. A study by Emanuel and Battin suggested that an individual family could save 20,000$ if a patient chooses euthanasia or physician assisted death. Fears that hospitals may coerce people and families to opt for early death to save money have thus far been unfounded in countries that have legalized the practice. The truth is that as we age and become sick, the cost of keeping us alive increases greatly. Some with debilitating illnesses who wish to die may live for years at the expense of taxpayers and families.
With Death Comes Life
Many of those who choose to die may be able to offer life, in the form of organs. Since doctor assisted suicide would be premeditated and thought out, vital organs could be obtained and used to save the lives of others. This may not always be the case depending on individual situations, however there is a greater likelihood of organ preservation than with traumatic death or death from old age.
Freedom For All
You have a right to life and a life well lived. Shouldn’t this apply to death? People often confuse the right to death with the right to kill and this is an important distinction. Assisted death laws do not mean that doctors have the right to take lives. Explicit consent is needed in all cases. However, with that in mind, assisted death laws mean that we all have the right to consent to ending our lives if our right to a life well lived is severely compromised.
The Slippery Slope
The concern for most opponents of assisted death laws are the supposed lack of safeguards and the slippery slope that would allow anyone to legally end their life for little reason. Ignoring the fact that people who want to die will do so regardless of its legality, there are a few reasons to reconsider such a position. First, abuse is going to happen with anything human. Does that mean that we should never consider assisted death laws? People disobey speeding laws all the time yet we still have them and are allowed to drive. While opponents claim that it is the poor, disabled and uninsured most at risk by assisted death laws, studies in Oregon have shown that the overwhelming majority of people utilizing assisted death are well educated, well off and are covered by insurance.
Why Everyone Should Have The Right to Die
The truth is that like gambling and alcohol, banning a practice cannot ensure its end. In fact the banning of certain vices and practices can lead to their dangerous abuse. People will continue to kill themselves, a process that is traumatic and dangerous for all involved. Why not allow assisted death in a comfortable and safe environment where the family could be given the chance to say goodbye in a manner of their choosing? This debate is far from over. Even in states and countries where the practice is legal, there have been hurdles and difficulties for all parties involved. A reasoned, well thought out and governed practice of physician assisted death or euthanasia is effective in the prevention of unnecessary pain and suffering and can result in a net benefit for society.
Stay tuned for Part 3 of our series where our guest writer will outline the cons of the assisted death debate and its negative implications.