Sunday, November 27, 2016

A reaction to Oregon's Death with Dignity Act

Here is a student's reaction paper about a law that allows terminally ill people to commit suicide when they are facing a long and painful death.
Oregon's Death with Dignity Act
In October of 1997, Oregon passed the Death with Dignity Act (Oregon Health Authority, 2016). This legalizes assisted suicide for terminally ill residents in Oregon. Terminally Ill residents are prescribed lethal medications by a physician, which will be self-administered (CGA, 2002). In order to begin this process, they must first meet the following requirements: Must be a Resident of Oregon, be 18 or older, capable and able to make health care decisions, diagnosed with a terminal illness that will lead to death within six months (CGA, 2002). After meeting these requirements, the individual must meet the following requirements to obtain a prescription for the lethal drug: Must orally make two requests to the physician (each request must be 15 days apart), Must make written request, with two witnesses present, to the physician; the diagnosis, prognosis, and patient's capability must be confirmed; patient must be informed or alternatives; and the physician must request that the patient notify his next of kin of this request (CGA, 2002). 
This is a beneficial law because it allows the terminally ill to die with dignity. It allows them to make the choice of living through something very painful or ending their lives. I fully support this and wish that it was legal everywhere. Each person should be able to make this decision for themselves. They should not be forced to live through such a painful end of their life if they do not wish to. Terminally ill patients are usually facing a lot of pain, costly medical bills, and dependency on others. Instead of waiting for their lives to painfully end, they should be able to avoid it and end it when they wish to. 
Though I believe that this should be legal, I understand that there are a lot of ethical issues surrounding this topic. Some people believe that death should be natural and that there might be a possibility of the patient recovering. Though this might be true, each person should be able to decide this for themselves. No one should be forced to suffer through this pain because someone else is sensitive to the topic. They are not the ones that have to endure the pain or the other negative effects of a terminal illness.


I will point out a few things about this.
For some chronic illnesses that kill very slowly, such as Alzheimer's Disease, this won't quite allow suicide, because in those cases a person will lose the ability to make health care decisions more than six months before death is likely to occur.  Also, there are sudden quick declines (for example, with strokes) where the 15 days between requests will exceed the time it takes to die (it might take a week or two).  But, for persons with late-stage cancer, or persons with organs failing or a degenerative disease that is destroying their body, but not their mind, this sort of option can reduce suffering.
I wonder about the terms "murder" and "suicide" in relation to persons who are near death.  If a person is in horrible agony, and will die in a matter of minutes, hours, or perhaps days, and someone kills that person out of mercy, it doesn't seem like murder to me.  Likewise, if someone will be dying soon, and will suffer unimaginable torment in the final weeks or months of that dying process, this sort of self-killing doesn't seem the same as a suicide. 
In 2015, only 132 persons used this act to end their lives (See the annual report in PDF).  That is a substantial number, but not really a very large number. There were, in total, 32.737 deaths in all of Oregon in 2015, and  761 suicides (see the report here).  If those death with dignity deaths are classified as suicides, that's 132 of 761. Nearly one-out-of-six suicides in the state that year.  But, I'm not satisfied with classifying these as suicides.

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