Should a doctor be allowed to give an adult who is terminally ill and has fewer than six months to live a medication that will allow them to die peacefully in their sleep if they request it?
After opposing assisted death officially since 1996, the Massachusetts Medical Society has now become neutral on the issue, paving the way for the state to become the seventh in the nation to allow assisted death as lawmakers there consider a bill allowing doctor-assisted suicide. With the Death with Dignity Act, Oregon became the first state to allow it in 1994, and it was followed by Colorado, Vermont, California, Washington and Montana.
It’s something that has doctors divided. Some believe it is a compassionate act, while others see it as a violation of the part of the Hippocratic Oath that says: “I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan.”
While those who have seen terminally ill loved ones suffer greatly and die slowly say they wouldn’t wish that fate on anyone, there are also many people who believe that we have no right to decide when is the right time for another person or even ourselves to die.
Could some people be encouraged to request medically-assisted suicide?
One Massachusetts palliative care physician, Dr. Laura Petrillo, told the Daily Mail that she is concerned that any doctor could write such a prescription – for example, dental surgeons – without having the proper health training to thoroughly grasp end-of-life issues. She’s also concerned that doctors or hospitals that can’t handle rare illnesses might use it as a quick solution to deal with the patient. In addition, insurance companies might see it as a cheaper option than providing care, which means people could be encouraged to end their lives for financial reasons.
It’s a very unsettling thought to imagine that people could be steered toward dying earlier than nature intended, especially specific groups like those who are poor, in a way that is dangerously similar to the eugenics programs of Nazi Germany. From here, is it that far of a leap to imagine that the disabled and mentally ill might be encouraged to end their lives?
On the other side of the debate, a retired physician with terminal prostate cancer, Dr. Roger Kligler, is in favor of medically assisted death so that he and others can die peacefully. He says that a lethal prescription allows people to fall asleep within five minutes and then die peacefully at home surrounded by loved ones within half an hour. This is in contrast to palliative sedation, which entails giving people a morphine drip until they are unconscious and then stopping their food and medication to allow them to die sooner, which can take days or weeks and is usually done in a hospital.
And what about those people on the brink of death who have made miraculous comebacks? There are countless stories of such recoveries taking place. For example, there have been a lot of stories emerging recently of people who were given just months to live by doctors turning their fate around with alternative remedies like cannabis oil, who are now thriving as a result.
When a doctor says someone has six months to live – the amount of time specified in the Massachusetts bill and many others – they are making an educated guess at best. No one can say for certain when that person will die or that something won’t happen in the meantime that could prolong their life. While most of us don’t wish pain and suffering upon other people, passing laws that are open to abuse that could see people dying needlessly – or simply because they are considered “inferior” in our society – is very dangerous.
Sources for this article include: