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Should Physician-Assisted Suicide Be Legal?

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

Read more: Aging, Caregiving, General Health, News & Issues, , , ,

By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com Editor

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AgingCare.com connects family caregivers and provides support, resources, expert advice and senior housing options for people caring for their elderly parents. AgingCare.com is a trusted resource that visitors rely on every day to find inspiration, make informed decisions, and ease the stress of caregiving.

193 comments

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8:46PM PDT on May 26, 2013

noted

9:41AM PDT on May 24, 2013

Yes.

12:44AM PDT on May 24, 2013

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

8:43PM PDT on May 23, 2013

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....

8:43PM PDT on May 23, 2013

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....

7:21PM PDT on May 22, 2013

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.

6:27PM PDT on May 21, 2013

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?

6:05PM PDT on May 21, 2013

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

5:19PM PDT on May 21, 2013

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

5:13PM PDT on May 21, 2013

It certainly should.
People with terminal illnesses should be allowed to choose for themselves. The fact that people still die slowly and in great pain because of someone else's moral scruples is barbaric.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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