Oregon is one of five states, along with New Mexico, Montana, Washington , and Vermont, that allow assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act passed in 1997 and has allowed for 1,173 prescriptions, with 752 deaths resulting from access of the medication.
Now, a 29-year-old terminally ill patient plans to take the lethal pill on November 1st to end her own life. After suffering from severe headaches, Brittany Maynard found out she had stage II glioblastoma multiforme and had up to ten years to live. However, after she had surgery, doctors found out that she had the most deadly form of brain cancer, stage IV glioblastoma multiforme. The cancer usually kills its victims in a matter of months.
After her diagnosis, Brittany decided that she wanted to move from her California home to Oregon so that she could have access to the “death with dignity” prescription. She plans to die in her home surrounded by her mother, stepfather, husband and best friend.
“My glioblastoma is going to kill me, and that’s out of my control. I’ve discussed with many experts how I would die from it, and it’s a terrible, terrible way to die. Being able to choose to go with dignity is less terrifying.
My entire family has gone through a cycle of devastation. I’m an only child – this is going to make tears come to my eyes. For my mother, it’s really difficult, and for my husband as well, but they’ve all supported me because they’ve stood in hospital rooms and heard what would happen to me.”
Brittany believes it is an ethical choice because patients can change their mind right up to the last minute. She picked November 1st as her date to die because her husband’s birthday is on October 30th and wants to celebrate it with him. Additionally, Brittany has dedicated the last few moments of her life to promoting a campaign with “Compassion & Choices”, an organization that “helps” terminally ill patients and calls themselves an “end of life advocacy group.” She created a video that is slated to air in California to urge lawmakers to pass assisted suicide legislation.
While this story is very sad– convincing even, make no mistake, “Death with Dignity” is an extremely dangerous practice. This is because underneath the kind-sounding Compassion & Choices organization is a group that preys upon the sick and elderly.
For example, Compassion & Choices promotes VSED (“voluntary stop eating and drinking) on its website. And they’ve even published a book about it. The booklet says, “Some call us because they feel overwhelmed by the symptoms of chronic and progressive illnesses that fill their days with misery and suffering. There are also those who may not be seriously ill but are simply ‘done.’ After eight or nine decades of life, they want information about ways to gently slip away in a peaceful and dignified manner.”
In other words, this organization, which was once called the Hemlock society, advocates that even people who are not terminally ill should have the “right “to die. This is already happening in the Netherlands and Belgium where the mentally ill are being euthanized.
The crux of the matter is helping people kill themselves for “good ” reasons becomes a very subjective matter when placed in the hands of humanity. As Burke Balch, the director of the bioethics arm of National Right to Life (NRLC) pointed out at the NRLC annual convention, their are serious questions that should be taken into consideration when lawmakers look at “right to die” legislation.
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Even putting moral, religious, and ethical question aside, passing assisted suicide laws has serious ramifications. This is because it goes too far and begs the question, “Where do you draw the line?” If a terminal patient can end their life, why can’t a person who is suffering from a severe handicap? And who gets to decide when it’s a patient’s time to die?
For now, in the some U.S. states this prescription is available to qualifying terminally ill patients; but one might argue that the clinically depressed patient should have access to the lethal pill because they simply cannot keep going. For now, the pill is considered “safe” because no one can force you to take it or coerce you into it; but how can the government ensure that this will actually not occur? And for now, the lethal concoction is a “choice” for patients who are sick and want to end their life.
Simply put, there are not enough ways to safeguard against abuse of this practice and it completely goes against the medical profession which vows to “do no harm.” “Death with Dignity” is a step toward an ugly future, which includes killing unwanted babies and unwilling victims because it is a “kind an merciful” act. It includes patients who are suffering with mental illness killing themselves with the help of doctors; and it includes the handicapped, elderly and sick being taken advantage of by others who wish for their demise.