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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Doctor Assisted Suicide

My daughter Katrina attended a lecture by Doctor Jack Kevorkian, the man who brought the issue of doctor assisted suicide to the forefront. Interestingly enough, Dr Kevorkian was not allowed to discuss the issue of doctor-assisted suicide during the lecture, as that would have violated his parole.

Anyway, Dr Kevorkian has championed the right of terminally ill patience to decide when they were going to die. Give the "Right to Life" crowd consistency points for this issue, as they have always been against the notion of doctor-assisted suicide (now if they only had that same level of consistency when it come to the death penalty). Controversy or not, I've heard over the years that the notion of doctor-assisted suicide isn't the most uncommon practice in this country. This doesn't mean that doctors routinely do it, but I've heard (again "heard", so I make no claims for accuracy relative to this statement) that it is practiced. Regardless, this certainly is a controversial issue.

Why is this so controversial? My personal opinion is that the controversy has more to do with religious dogma than it does the actual circumstances found in these situations. Think about it: if someone is terminally ill and suffering greatly, what purpose is served (other than a religious one) by requiring that individual continue to suffer until their bodies simply give out from the constant battle? In some ways it almost sounds too cruel to be true. What's more, if any of us were to come upon a mortally wounded animal that was in great pain, our first instinct would be probably be to want that creature to be put out of it's misery. However, with fellow humans, there are some who believe that the misery needs to continue...and probably intensify...simply because the whole ordeal is somehow part of "Gods Plan".

Granted that this whole thing is about "my opinion", so I feel rather nutty saying "my opinion is this", but I will anyway...My opinion is this: there are five conditions under which I think this should be permitted:
  1. The individual has a terminal illness for which there is no cure.
  2. The individual has a very severely limited lifespan as a result of the terminal illness.
  3. The individual is in constant severe pain and discomfort.
  4. The treatment for the constant pain/discomfort renders the person such that they can not perform basic human functions.
  5. The individuals is in a clear mental state, fully understands the circumstances under which they find themselves, and has expressed a desire to end their life in a controlled manner.
Given these conditions, I would argue that such a person should have the right to die with some measure of control, and not laying in a hospital or hospice bed waiting for the end to come like an animal at a celestial slaughtering house. In conditions such as this, when everything about someones life is turned around, it seems to me that allowing a dignified, controlled way to end a patent's suffering is far more compassionate of an act that simply prolonging life and suffering through temporary band-aid measures (such of which may have side-effects that are nearly as bad as the illness it self).

Now I have two side notes to the above:

No doctor should be forced to help a terminally ill patient end their life.

While this could change, I personally don't think I would ever choose to end my own life, regardless of the circumstances.

For the first side-note, I recognize that reasonable people may have differing opinions on this subject, rooted in both religious and other moral traditions. That's okay. Just as no doctor should be forced to perform an abortion, no doctor should be forced perform an assisted suicide.

For the second side-note, I view human life (even my own) to truly be a special thing. At this moment (knowing that things can change) I would want to be able to get every single breath entitled to me in this life.

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