The Right to Die

Mikayla Murphy, Contributing writer

The Hippocratic Oath requires doctors to “do no harm,” but sometimes, for doctors to treat their patients, they must do more harm than good by keeping patients with terminal illnesses alive. But what happens when these patients – who are destined to die – want to die on their own terms? The CDC reported that in 2015, there were about 1.4 million hospice patients, meaning approximately 1.4 million people who were on their deathbed with no other treatments available to them but comfort care. But when the comfort care isn’t keeping these patients comfortable, sometimes they turn to another option to alleviate their suffering.

Probably almost everyone has known someone that has had cancer. According to the Death with Dignity organization, 79.9% of patients living in Oregon in 2018 who used Physician Assisted Death had some type of cancer. The treatment for this disease not only involves killing the abnormal cancer cells with chemotherapy and radiation therapy, but also the regular, unaffected cells in your body. These treatments alone can cause hair loss, nausea, and vomiting, never mind the side effects of cancer spreading to other vital organs, so it’s understandable that some patients with this illness prefer not to have to suffer the ongoing burden of radiation or chemotherapy.

Physician Assisted Death is currently an option only for the people in California, Colorado, District of Colombia, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. People who consider this option sometimes move from other states to proceed with this route- and to follow through, these patients must have a terminal illness with a prognosis of 6 or less months to live. Why should we make these patients go through the extensive process of moving in order to legally end their life peacefully on their own terms?

“It would give me a lot of peace of mind,” Scott Schwimmer told NPR when asked about how it would be different taking care of his father in a different state that allowed Physician Assisted Death. “it just gets away from the legality and ethics of me doing any of it personally”. By keeping Physician Assisted Death illegal, lawmakers are putting more stress on the family to find a way to legally fulfill their terminal family member’s wishes. It puts these families in difficult situations in which they want to aid their dying loved one, but risk being jailed if they do.

Additionally, it can be argued that allowing people to die in this fashion creates an ideation of suicide. But the people utilizing this option are suffering from their illness in more ways than one can imagine. Following the events leading up to the initial desire to pursue Physician Assisted Death, there is a strict process that needs to be followed. First, one must have proof of residency. Then, an initial oral request is required, and afterwards one needs to consult with a physician to confirm diagnosis, prognosis, and mental competence. Even after all of this there is a minimum 15 day waiting period before a second oral request. Finally, a written request needs to be made, and after another 48 hours, the physician may finally write you the prescription.

Throughout all of the steps, the patient is reminded that they can back down from their decision. Even if the prescription is filled, the patient can opt not to take it. The process is meant to ensure that people know exactly what they are doing and have plenty of time to think about this major decision.

These patients have been listening to their doctors and letting them control what they do and how their bodies are treated for all of their life. Let them get one final say of what they want to do with their body. If a patient is already dying, we shouldn’t make them go through moving to a completely different state just to end their life on their own terms.

If the Hippocratic Oath says to “do no harm”, then isn’t making a patient suffer through hospice care even if they want to die on their own terms doing more harm than good? Prolonging a life of suffering is certainly not with the patient’s best interests at heart. Patients are taken off of life support all of the time, and no questions regarding ethics are made. Patient choices such as “Do Not Resuscitate” and “Allowing Natural Death” are currently available to the general public, just as Physician Assisted Death should be.