Imagine a patient, dealing with a terminal illness or chronic pain. There is no cure. There is no help. However, there is one solution: physician-assisted death. Although a controversial topic, research of various legal cases, medical journals, and personal accounts relay a strong argument defending physician-assisted death. PAD should be legalized in every state, as it should be a choice all patients can make and is a realistic option for those in extreme suffering.
To begin, there is a clear difference between PAD and euthanization. Euthanasia is defined as the act of deliberately causing the death of a patient by a third-party suffering from an incurable condition, commonly performed with a lethal injection. Oregon Health Authority, a healthcare organization in Oregon (the first state to legalize PAD) asserts that “an injection is never involved under Death with Dignity laws [Oregon’s PAD laws], which require patients to take the medication prescribed under the law themselves,” giving the patient the autonomy to end their life and control the case of their death. This practice provides the patient protection in that it allows them to have the opportunity to change their mind and not commit if they choose to do so. This is also clearly different from suicide, which is defined as “is the act of intentional and voluntary ending of one’s life” where one ends a life that could have otherwise continued. In PAD cases, the patient is already dying and their life is already ending; they only wish to hasten their death to end physical and emotional pains they are going through. They are not choosing between death and life, they are choosing between one form of death to another and this choice should be given to all patients in the U.S. and protected by law across the nation. Patients also have the legal option of refusing life-saving treatment, which the Supreme Court in the Vacco case defines as when “the patient dies from an underlying fatal disease” by refusing such treatment. Similarly, the American Medical Association views this as when “a physician who ceases… life- sustaining medical treatment purposefully intends only to respect his patient’s wishes and to avoid… futile or degrading things to the patient when the patient no longer stands to benefit” from the treatment. The idea of refusal of life-saving treatment is widely accepted and legal, while PAD is not; yet, both hold similar concepts. In both cases, the patient is already dying of a terminal illness and wishes to end their suffering; it is their conscious decision. Through PAD, the patient has a possible course of action to quicken their oncoming death and not have to bear extra days, weeks, or even months of pain due to their disease. PAD is not euthanasia. PAD is not suicide. PAD is an end-of-life medicare option all U.S, citizens deserve. The patient’s choice to end their suffering should not be obstructed by outside parties when ultimately, it is the patient’s own life and provides relief for them.
All states allowing PAD have heavy restrictions for those who wish to utilize it as a course of action. Take California, for example: the California Department of Health outlines patient eligibility for the End of Life Option Act to those “18 years of age or older/Resident of California /Capable of making and communicating health care decisions for themselves/Diagnosed with a terminal illness that will lead to death within six months/Physically and mentally capable of self-administering the aid-in-dying drug.” PAD offers relief in the form of a quicker death and ensures justification with proof of the patient’s terminal illness. This is not an option for those suffering from mental illnesses such as depression, as only mentally capable patients are eligible. PAD is only allowed in cases where the physician can not do anything more to help their fatal conditions. By ending their life, they are choosing to save themselves. A personal account of this was given by Brittany Maynard, an 29-year-old Oregon resident who suffered from terminal brain cancer. She described her life as “hospital stays, doctor consultations, and medical research” where potential recommended treatments, such as full brain radiation, “would have destroyed the time [she] had left.” Even under hospice care, “with palliative medication, [she] could develop… morphine-resistant pain and suffer personality changes and verbal, cognitive and motor loss… and [her] family would have had to watch that.” Upon deciding on PAD, she declared “I would not tell anyone else that he or she should choose death with dignity. My question is: Who has the right to tell me that I don’t deserve this choice? That I deserve to suffer for weeks or months in tremendous amounts of… pain?” This young woman burdened years of this disease. Why should other people decide how she spends her last days? Not only did her illness put strains on her physically, emotionally, and economically, but it also took a toll on her loved ones. However, she did not have to bear extra weeks of hardship because she had the choice to alleviate that pain. Patients deserve all available recourses when faced with this decision to mitigate the pains of their illnesses.
Despite this, some may view PAD as an immoral and unjust act. This may be due to the Hippocratic Oath, which all doctors take, which states that “I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked” Leon Kass, a professor at the University of Chicago states that “In forswearing the giving of poison when asked for it, the Hippocratic physician rejects the view that the patient’s choice for death can make killing him right.” The Hippocratic Oath clearly states that a physician should never authorize lethal drugs, so the argument arises that doctors, who “swear to do no harm” should not be prescribing medication that will end their patients’ lives. However, there are clear reasons why the Hippocratic Oath does not apply itself in the case of PAD. To begin, the Hippocratic Oath is outdated. Following the statement on lethal drugs, it also states “and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion.” Abortion has been legalized nationally, so similarly, there should not be reason why the terms on lethal drugs should not be altered as well, as the Hippocratic Oath has since been modified. Additionally, the statement that physicians will “do no harm” comes to question. Is the doctor harming the patient when they prolong a painful life they no longer wants to bear the burden to? In that case, the doctor would be “doing no harm” by helping the patient to end their pain, therefore providing sufficient and satisfactory end-of-life medical care.
Ultimately, PAD should be protected by federal laws to preserve the choices of terminally ill patients who wish to end their pain. The self administrative aspect of PAD clearly denies any associations with suicide or euthanasia but, given its prescribed circumstances, provides an equally viable option as refusal of treatment that proves why PAD should be a patient’s choice. Also, it provides an extension to medical services for those with terminal illness to relieve their pain. Be the voice that aids those who deserve a decision over their life by advocating for the legalization of PAD across the nation to save a patient who may be suffering.