Dying with Dignity

Death is almost inherently scary for all humans. We are all alive and cannot possibly imagine what it would feel like not to be alive. Even saying that does not make much sense as there is no feeling after death–excluding spiritual teachings about an afterlife. Not existing in this material world is incomprehensible to us. Thus, considering issues that concern death are extremely difficult by nature. Most of us hope to live a long, healthy life which ends in a peaceful, natural death at old age. However, that hope does not materialize for some us because of an unexpected disease that arises. In that instance, a potentially young person is faced with the fear of having to bear unbelievable pain preceding a certain death. Does the state have a compelling interest in forcing that person to remain alive while suffering before death from that chronic disease?

Often called physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia, the procedure has been supported by the majority of Americans since Gallup began probing. 68% of Americans believe that the option should be available to those who are terminally ill and in severe pain. Although the vast majority of Americans now support the practice, just six of fifty states have legalized it. Five of those six have legalized euthanasia in just the last ten years. Thus, the practice may spread as time passes. But should it?

There are two angles from which many people consider this issue: the morality and the legality. Should we as a country condone killing oneself even if in a time of great suffering and certain death? Secondly, does the Constitution grant that a person is entitled to kill themselves or does it prohibit such?

Per the prior question, considering this seems irrelevant in a secular nation. What is legal should not care about the value in question as long as the act would not hurt others and the person technically hurting themselves is doing so in sound mind. For example, the law prohibits murder and drunk driving because those acts endanger others. The law prohibits the use of drugs that cause addiction because they cause a person to lose their mental sovereignty over what they choose in their life. Euthanasia does not seem to involve those problems as long as the person considering the procedure is in a sound mental state.

Now, some may argue that anyone experiencing or fearing that amount of unbearable pain is not technically in a sound state of mind, but who are we to demand that person remain in that pain? If the person is not mentally ill, they should be able to determine on their own whether they would like to suffer through that pain or not.

That brings up another legal question: who should be the one to complete the suicide? If we are to believe in the ill person’s individual sovereignty over their own body, then only they should be in control of if they wish to die. No doctor should inject the final drug, and no family member should make that final decision unless they have been given the power of attorney with that desire explicitly stated and the ill person no longer has that mental sovereignty.

If a person in their own right mind no longer wishes to live, the state arguably has no interest in interfering with that personal desire. Furthermore, if the procedure is not legal, someone who no longer wishes to live may take a more gruesome alternative that is far more traumatizing for family. A medically safe and planned suicide is much more preferable for all involved.

I have still heard it said that euthanasia is a selfish act just as suicide in general is selfish. This is why the Catholic Church considers both a sin. However, how self-righteous we must be to demand that another person live so that we are not too upset. Yes, death is traumatizing regardless, but a person’s life is their own and only they should be involved in ending it without being shamed for upsetting others. Those loving family members should see that living a life doomed for death and full of pain is just not worth it to that person, and they should work to accept that eventually even though it would be undoubtedly difficult.

Ultimately, opting for physician-assisted suicide is a deeply personal decision for each person who enters that situation of terminal illness, and the state has no place in that process. Furthermore, our society has no place in interfering with a person’s difficult decision on whether to live or not. Euthanasia should be a widely available option for anyone who enters into that terribly sad state of certain death and unimaginable pain. img_0725

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