Should Physician-Assisted Suicide Be Legal?

Groundbreaking legislation legalizing physician-assisted suicide recently passed both branches of the Vermont State Congress.

The bill, entitled, “The Patient Choice and Control at End of Life Act,”¯ will automatically go into effect, once Vermont governor, Peter Shumlin, signs on the dotted line. His signature would officially make Vermont the first state to approve such a law through the legislative process. Oregon and Washington have had similar legislation for years; however, both of their laws were passed via public referendum.

Physician-assisted suicide (also dubbed, “death-with-dignity”) laws allow doctors to legally prescribe lethal prescription drugs to people with are near death. These rulings also provide protection for friends and family members who support a dying individual’s choice.

For more than a decade the Vermont’s version of a death-with-dignity law has been under construction; traveling back and forth between the state’s House and Senate several times and undergoing multiple revisions.

The final iteration of the bill closely mirrors the one passed in Oregon over 15 years ago. Here are a few of the key provisions in Vermont’s bill:

A person applying for a deadly dose of medication must:

  • Have a terminal illness with a prognosis of six months or less
  • Undergo a complete examination of their current and past health status
  • Be deemed capable of making a decision
  • Be able to take the medication themselves

Also included in the bill are specific protections for anyone who is present when a terminally ill individual consumes doctor-prescribed life-ending medication.

Continue reading to discover interesting statistics on the individuals who opt for physician-assisted suicide, and why they are choosing to end their lives early…

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How to Respond When a Loved One Says: “I Just Want to Die”
How to Talk About End-of-Life Issues With an Aging Loved One
How to Help an Elder Who is Afraid to Die

Vermont Passes Landmark Legislation Legalizing Physician-Assisted Suicide originally appeared on AgingCare.com.

Physician-assisted suicide a highly-charged issue

Should physician-assisted suicide be legal?

This question has been debated for years, with equally-impassioned advocates falling on both sides of the debate.
Those who support such legislation argue that every person should have the right to decide for themselves when they want to die. Those who oppose it paint horrifying pictures of people coerced into ending their own lives, either by ill-intentioned family members, or a government seeking to rid itself of the people putting the greatest amount of financial strain on America’s over-burdened healthcare system. Religion adds further fuel to dissenters, many of whom feel that suicide is a sinful act.

So strong are the concerns associated with death-with-dignity legislation, that each of the three bills that have passed includes a clause requiring their respective state Health Departments to conduct regular reviews of the initiative, collecting data and monitoring any potential abuses.

The statistics compiled thus far indicate that fears of an epidemic of forced suicide may be misplaced.

In their 2012 statement, the Oregon Health Department reported that only 77 people sought to end their lives early via the state’s Death with Dignity Act. This means that, overall, the legislation accounted for approximately .2 percent of all deaths in the state for that year.

Among the most common reasons these Oregonians cited for ending their lives early were: loss of autonomy (93%), decreasing ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable (92%), and loss of dignity (78%).

The death-with-dignity movement appears to be gaining ground rather than petering out. Over the past two years, no less than eight states (Vermont, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Montana, Massachusetts, Kansas, Hawaii and Connecticut) have all introduced physician-assisted suicide bills into the legislature. However, both Connecticut and Montana also considered bills that would make it illegal for doctors to purposefully quicken their patient’s dying process.

Caregivers of the elderly divided over death-with-dignity debate

More than anyone else, family caregivers are intimately familiar with the crushing decisions that surround end-of-life care for aging adults. Yet, they are also a community that remains divided on the ethical, moral and practical implications of legalizing physician-assisted suicide.

Many caregivers champion the benefits of hospice care, which emphasizes the management of mental, physical and emotional pain during an elder’s final months, as opposed to aggressive medical treatment. But, while hospice care does offer a measure of choice to dying elders and their families, for some, it is still not enough.

One AgingCare.com community member asks, “Why are people allowed to suffer and animals are allowed to go in peace?” and another writes, “Can you actually help someone die with dignity?”

What do you think? Do death-with-dignity laws do more harm than good? Or, do they provide desperate elders with one final option for exercising their independence?

Related
What to Say (and What Not to Say) When Someone is Dying
6 Myths About Grieving
How the World’s Oldest Person Spent Her Last Day

By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com Editor

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194 comments

Past Member
.9 months ago

I don’t waste my free time that’s why I read the informative things when I got this blog I really enjoyed reading this. John Franklin

Camilla Vaga
Camilla Vaga2 years ago

noted

Angelene B.
Angelene B.2 years ago

Yes.

Patricia H.
Patricia H.2 years ago

You should have the right to choose the way your life should end if it is due to medical conditions, no one should suffer.

Kiarah Nightrayne

I live in Wa state. We have assisted suicide here too.
I knew one of the people in Oregon who chose death by dignity.
I agree with the death by dignity act. It is not for me, or anyone else to judge another or bear false witness because of their own opinion. We simply don't know another person experience.
I also believe, the laws should not set a certain time frame on if someone chooses to end their own life. When someone is ready, they are ready. They know when they can cope and when they can't any longer.
And I am not so sure it should always be about being terminally ill either. There are many diseases and disorders out there that ruin quality of life and make being alive unbearable. IF a person, who is ill, is in their natural state, without expensive meds or others to care for them, would they still be alive? Or what about the meds? I have known so many people who have died due to their meds or gotten terminal illnesses from their meds on top of it.
But Hey! As long as they didn't Choose It, i guess its okay that they died and in some cases from doc prescribed meds. *shrug*
If people have a 'choice' those who disagree and would rather wait their time out have a choice too.
Just a few of my thoughts anyway....

Kiarah Nightrayne

I live in Wa state. We have assisted suicide here too.
I knew one of the people in Oregon who chose death by dignity.
I agree with the death by dignity act. It is not for me, or anyone else to judge another or bear false witness because of their own opinion. We simply don't know another person experience.
I also believe, the laws should not set a certain time frame on if someone chooses to end their own life. When someone is ready, they are ready. They know when they can cope and when they can't any longer.
And I am not so sure it should always be about being terminally ill either. There are many diseases and disorders out there that ruin quality of life and make being alive unbearable. IF a person, who is ill, is in their natural state, without expensive meds or others to care for them, would they still be alive? Or what about the meds? I have known so many people who have died due to their meds or gotten terminal illnesses from their meds on top of it.
But Hey! As long as they didn't Choose It, i guess its okay that they died and in some cases from doc prescribed meds. *shrug*
If people have a 'choice' those who disagree and would rather wait their time out have a choice too.
Just a few of my thoughts anyway....

Charlene Rush
Charlene Rush2 years ago

Yes, by all means, physician-assisted suicide should be legalized, but, with strict conditions, in order to protect the patient and the doctor.
No one, can live in another person's shoes, and experience what that person's experiences. A person intent on taking their own life, deserves to undergo this procedure without pain, or harming themselves further.

Julie Cordner
Julie Cordner2 years ago

My question is: What about people who want to die who aren't elderly or terminally ill? Or does the fact that you want to die contravene the "being of sound mind" clause?

Connie O.
Connie O.2 years ago

If I ever get to that position, I would hope I would have the choice to end my life as I see fit.

Mari Garcia
Mari Garcia2 years ago

I believe a person has a right to decide to die and how they die forced into that decision.