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Assisted Suicides: Compassion or Murder?

In Uncategorized on June 20, 2011 at 10:37 am

By Gery L. Deer

Deer In Headlines

Do the terminally ill have the right to choose when and how they die? Or, should those patients be forcibly subjected to the pain and horror of suffering a slow, agonizing death as a result of their disease and the effects of its treatment? Who, but the patient, should have the right to decide when they’ve had enough?

One might assume in a free society that an individual who was so inclined would have the right to end his or her life, at the time, place and method of their own choice. On the contrary, for those who wish to avoid what awaits them towards the end of their days, there are few options available, none of which are dignified or 100 percent successful.

In the United States, suicide, in and of itself, is not a crime. After all, someone who has taken his or her own life has pretty much outrun the long arm of the law, so what would be the point? What most people forget, though, is that society already has a variety of accepted “assisted suicide” methods already in place, but no one thinks of these options in the same way.

When a person is being kept alive artificially due to an accident or illness they are usually in some kind of unconscious state. In these cases, a living will can be used to inform the doctors of precisely how and when to end treatment.

Many proponents see assisted suicide as the same set of choices. The only difference is that the patient is capable of making their wishes known at the time.

Here’s another example. Hospice organizations do what they can to address complications from illness and provide comfort care to terminal patients while making every effort to preserve their dignity; even if doing so means withholding treatment and allowing a patient to pass away. None of these procedures are ever attacked as immoral nor are those responsible prosecuted.

In 1990, Dr. Jack Kavorkian supervised the suicide of a 54-year-old Michigan woman who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Immediately following the incident, he was arrested for murder. Since no laws were in place specifically listing assisted suicide as a crime, Kavorkian was released and the charges dropped.

Kavorkian eventually served eight years for second-degree murder after admitting to assisting with the suicides of 130 terminally ill patients and died earlier, at the age of 83. Though even proponents of assisted suicides had reservations about his methods, it was hard to deny that the so called “doctor death” had set a precedent that could not be ignored.

Keep in mind that the majority of non-assisted suicides are the result of mental breakdown or emotional impairment. Any widespread sanction of assisted suicide would most likely require that the medical community agree to guidelines relating to the mental status of the patient and a specially trained physician would be required to administer the procedure.

Since the legality of such a practice is based on a society’s cultural beliefs, there are also moral issues to consider. Most religions view suicide as a type of murder – the murder of oneself – which is, of course, a sin. In the case of assisted suicide the person who helps the patient to die would also be guilty of murder.

Ultimately, however, the moral and spiritual consequences of assisted suicide rest with the terminally ill patient and their attending physician. For those who make the choice to end their own suffering, they should have the right to do so medically and painlessly, under the care of a doctor. Physicians with the courage to honor a dying patient’s final wishes with dignity and care should be commended, not prosecuted.

On death row, lethal injection is used to painlessly and humanely execute the condemned prisoner who is attended by a physician and supervised by someone who makes sure the procedure is done with dignity and care. It is somewhat ironic and shameful, however, that Americans, in all their moral superiority, have yet to bestow that level of dignity and compassion to free citizens who are suffering the horrific ravages of terminal disease.

Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer based in Jamestown. More at http://www.gerydeer.com.

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