6 November 2014
Death With Dignity
After months of suffering from debilitating headaches, twenty-nine year old Brittany
Maynard was diagnosed with brain cancer. She underwent a partial craniotomy and a partial resection of her temporal lobe. Both surgeries were an effort to stop the growth of her tumor. A few months later Brittany learned that not only had the tumor come back, but it was more aggressive. Doctors gave her a prognosis of six months to live (Schabner). Because the tumor was extremely large, doctors prescribed full brain radiation. There are severe side effects associated with this procedure. The hair on her scalp would have been singed off. Her scalp would be left covered with first-degree burns. Her quality of life, as she knew it, would be gone
(Briggs). After considering all possible options, Brittany and her family reached a heartbreaking conclusion; there is no treatment that would save her life, and the recommended treatments would have destroyed the time she had left. Brittany, her husband of one year and her mother uprooted their lives from California to Oregon, which is one of only five states where death with dignity is legal. On November 1st, 2014, Brittany ended her life on her own terms by drinking a lethal mixture of water, sedatives and respiratory-system depressants (Briggs). Although euthanasia is illegal in a majority of the world, people with terminal illnesses, like Brittany, are opting to end their own lives before their illness does it for them.
Euthanasia, doctor assisted suicide, has been a controversial topic for a long time. Doctor assisted suicide is illegal in a majority of the world. One reason why people are opposed to euthanasia is that they feel it goes against the Hippocratic oath (Morris). The Hippocratic oath is an oath that all physicians must take, which requires them to swear upon a number of healing gods to uphold specific ethical standards (Lasagna). “Many people interpret this to mean ‘do nothing to harm the patient’s chances of survival.’ But, taken literally, it could just as easily mean
‘don’t artificially keep someone alive when death is preferable’” (Morris). Essentially it all comes down to what people believe constitutes as harm. When patients are in intense pain or suffering severe mental distress, society could be doing more harm by keeping them alive than allowing them to end their life. In extreme cases it could be argued that a physician who did not alleviate their suffering when asked would be violating the principles of their oath. For example,
Tony Nicklinson suffered from “locked in” syndrome, which left his body incapable of moving a single muscle. Tony described this disease as “a living nightmare” (Morris). Tony’s plea to undergo euthanasia was rejected by the British High Court. After a week without being able to properly care for himself he died in “indignity and misery” from pneumonia (Morris). At the end of the day, it is up to society to decide whether to continue to sit back and watch people suffer, or choose to do something about it. Until euthanasia is available to all patients everywhere, the unnecessary suffering will continue.
Another common argument against euthanasia is that it is irreversible. Once the patients are gone, no one would ever know if their unexpected recovery was just around the corner, or if they might have gone on to lead full and happy lives despite their illness. Despite what hopeful evangelicals and daytime dramas would like people to believe, terminal illness is usually exactly
Eckman 3! that—the final stop before death (Morris). In 1991, a Dutch report into euthanasia discovered that in eighty-six percent of cases, euthanasia shortened life by a maximum of a week and usually only by a few hours (Lancet). In other words, it was a last resort—an escape used by patients in unbearable pain who would rather end their suffering now than in two days’ time.
This is not