To die with dignity, not degradation

Terminally ill patients should have the right to choose

Sophia Hernandes and Allyson Mendez, Contributing writers

Before you read this, think of your loved ones.

Think of your mom, dad, brother, sister, or your best friend and imagine them being diagnosed with a life-ending disease. Watch as it slowly turns your happy and healthy loved one into a thin and dying shell of themselves. Would you be able to grant their dying wish of leaving this Earth with some form of dignity instead of being locked within themselves just waiting for their pain to end?

As of right now only five states and the District of Columbia have so-called “death with dignity” acts. According to the Health Research Foundation, 66 percent of U.S. adults believe that a doctor or a nurse should allow a patient to die in certain circumstances. Yet many Americans, especially those who are devout, believe that life is the most basic gift God has given us and that we should always protect our lives and live them out. What kind of a life would I really be living if it had to be spent living in pain and sickness? Given a choice, patients could organize a final goodbye to their loved ones instead of just waiting around for the day that they die. A main reason why Death with Dignity acts are not more common is because some say that assisted suicide is against the Hippocratic Oath that all doctors take when they begin practicing medicine. Yet the statement “First do no harm” would not apply to right to die cases due to the fact that leaving the patient alive would only prolong their pain, not resolve it. And clearly, physician-assisted suicide would not extend to psychological patients who just want to die.

Although there are some miracles in which terminal illness patients do get better, most patients aren’t that fortunate. Often, there is a point at which even the doctor has lost hope and the only thing left to do is wait with unbearable pain. At that point, the patient should have a say in what they want to do with the rest of their short life.

When it comes to brain-dead patients, they are still alive but empty inside. In these cases, it is permissible to take them off life support. It relieves dying individuals of suffering, and gives their families peace of mind that they’re going to a better place. It also removes the burden of hospital and hospice bills piling up, making families even more miserable.

Jenny Cooper, a 34-year-old, three-time breast cancer survivor, found that after her double mastectomy, her cancer had spread to her diaphragm and slowly spread into her brain. Cooper spent part of her final months advocating for the right to choose her own fate. She died in December. In one of several articles and videos she composed chronicling and reflecting on her cancer prognosis, Jenny stated: “ There isn’t much left that I can do. I have done treatment after treatment but the cancer is still there. If I go slowly the idea of sitting around hooked up to machines and becoming all of these things and my children seeing that… I feel like that would do more emotional damage to my family than if I were to gather everybody around to say goodbye and tell them that I love them and that I’m going to miss them and then peacefully fall asleep in my husband’s arms.”

There are thousands of stories like Jenny’s; everyday many of these people are suffering and hoping that today might be the day that they can finally end their torment.

Dying with dignity is something that most people support — giving families and their dying loved ones a chance to end life on their own terms rather than those of their illness. Dying this way could be the last chance to see their loved one happy before their illness destroys their life. The last moments are often ones that loved ones remember the most. Death can cause irreparable damage to a family, and those last moments are something that they will hold forever. Would you rather that memory be how your loved one looked in their everyday life, or how their illness made them look?