Physician-assisted suicide (PAS) is defined as the voluntary termination of one’s own life by administration of a lethal substance with the direct or indirect assistance of a physician. The patient must be competent and terminally ill with six months or less to live. Many people argue that PAS has its proponents and its opponents. Each individual will have their own opinions on such an in depth topic.
Jack Kevorkian was a pathologist who had a huge role in some of the decisions on hospice care and ‘right to die’ legislative action. As a pathologist, he assisted many people in ending their lives due to different medical conditions.
In 1990, he first assisted in the suicide of Janet Adkins, a 45-year-old patient suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Before getting ill, she was a member of an organization that advocates voluntary euthanasia for terminally ill patients. Adkins contacted Kevorkian because she had heard about his ‘suicide machine’ invention. Kevorkian agreed to assist Adkins in her death, he then became a celebrity and a criminal all at once. The courts could never hold Kevorkian responsible for Adkins death because Michigan was indecisive with the decision of assisted suicide.
After many changes in Michigan’s legislation, Kevorkian was prosecuted a total of four times and was acquitted in three of the cases, and mistrial was declared in the fourth. Kevorkian continued his acts of different ways to assist patients who are terminally ill, to commit suicide. In 1999 he was convicted of second-degree murder and the illegal delivery of a controlled substance and sentenced to 25 years in prison. After serving a little more than eight years, in 2007 he was released from prison on good behavior. On June 3, 2011, at the age of 83, Jack Kevorkian died due to kidney and heart problems. He was a rebel when it came to assisting patients to end their life. He strongly believed that the decision was theirs. Kevorkian stood up for what he believed in , along with so many people today who are for physician-assisted suicide.
Brittany Maynard: Her Decision
Brittany Maynard became a well-known face within the media as she went viral with her story of being diagnosed with glioblastoma. She was a 29 year old woman that had only been married a little over a year, and had her whole life in front of her. Looking forward to starting a beautiful family, Brittany Maynard was faced with the news of having a brain tumor. After receiving the news, the doctors performed a partial craniotomy and a partial resection of the temporal lobe. Sadly, the tumor came back more aggressively and Brittany was then given six months to live.
Doctors then prescribed full brain radiation. Not knowing what to do or which way to turn, she then began to do her own research. Brittany Maynard then learned that the radiation would singe the hair off her scalp and would leave her head covered with first-degree burns. Being a young beautiful woman this sounded so crucial to her. The whole image of her after radiation seemed so much of a burden for her and her family. Brittany Maynard then felt that her quality of life, as she had known, would be gone. Brittany (2014) then expressed, after months of research, my family and I reached a heartbreaking conclusion: There is no treatment that would save my life, and the recommended treatments would have the time I had left. I considered passing away in hospice care at my San Francisco Bay area home. But even with palliative medication, I could develop potentially morphine-resistant pain and suffer personality changes and verbal, cognitive and motor loss of virtually any kind.
Fearing the nightmare of her family watching her deteriorate and suffer, she decided death with dignity was the best decision for them all. Maynard and her family moved to Portland, Oregon due to the death with dignity law. In Oregon the patient must be at least 18 years old, an Oregon resident, and able to make a clearheaded decision. Brittany met the criteria for death with dignity in Oregon, but had to make many changes to become a resident of the state. Having such a great support team, Brittany and her family did what they needed to do to become residents of Oregon to support her decision. Uprooting and battling a brain tumor was a lot, while facing the daily battles that her condition may throw at her. Her seizures increased, her speech was affected, and as the days passed she was continually reminded of her illness.
Brittany (2014) stated, I’ve had the medication for weeks. I am not suicidal. If I were, I would have consumed that medication long ago. I do not want to die. But I am dying. And I want to die on my own terms. Now that I’ve had the prescription filled and it’s in my possession, I have experienced a tremendous sense of relief. And if I decide to change my mind about taking the medication, I will not take it. Having this choice at the end of my life has become incredibly important. It has given me a sense of peace during a tumultuous time that otherwise would be dominated by fear, uncertainty and pain.
Brittany Maynard became an advocate of ‘death with dignity.’ She wanted to share her experience with the world to make a difference with others who may be faced with her situation or one similar to hers. Whether or not they would make the same decision as she, it would be best if they had the ‘death with dignity’ decision. Many people began to support Brittany and reach out to her in her final days. Of course, there were those who didn’t agree with her decision but, Brittany Maynard wanted to leave this world while her legacy continued to live on.
Brittany Maynard had her mind made up, nothing was going to change that. In her final hours she displayed her final words on Facebook saying, “Goodbye to all my dear friends and family that I love. Today is the day I have chosen to pass away with dignity in the face of my terminal illness, this terrible brain cancer that has taken so much from me ‘ but would have taken so much more,” she wrote on Facebook. “The world is a beautiful place, travel has been my greatest teacher, my close friends and folks are the greatest givers. I even have a ring of support around my bed as I type ‘ Goodbye world. Spread good energy. Pay it forward!”
Of course when ethics come into question about physician-assisted suicide, there are people on both sides of the fence. There will always be those who agree and those who do not. Amongst those who disagree are doctors. Doctors struggle with the Hippocratic Oath, which is intended for them to uphold which states ‘do no harm.’ So many questions come to surface, what if the medication fails? Wouldn’t the doctor then have to step in? What would take place then, save their life or end their life?
Health insurance, another huge topic in the headlines today, is another thing that must be taken into consideration when we speak on physician-assisted suicide. Many healthcare providers feel that the legalization of this act would lead to the abuse and neglect of the elderly. No one ever wants to be a burden on their family. When a loved one becomes sick and the bills begin to pile sky high, those who oppose assisted suicide feel that this act would become their decision just to lighten the burden of the ones responsible for their healthcare bills. In healthcare autonomy is promoted. With assisted suicide legal, many doctors feel as if insurance companies would steer their policy holders in the direction of suicide rather than life-extending treatment, taking away that autonomy. Many also argue that sometimes the terminal diagnoses could be wrong, and that legalization of suicide would encourage patients to throw away the life they have left in front of them.
Assisted suicide is intentional killing. And it is both wrong in principle and dangerous in practice, Paul Starks (2014) wrote. Each person matters. That’s why suicide is always tragic. Every human life, without exception, is valuable- regardless of age, illness, disability or state of dependency, and regardless of whether a person will live for another six months or another 60 years. Certainly, we should never downplay the difficulties and fears surrounding disease and disability. But the solution to these problems is not killing. The solution is to provide the emotional support and medical care that patients need, including mental health care and quality palliative care. The best answer to suffering is to end the suffering. It is not to kill the sufferer.
Assisted suicide is such a controversial topic, which is the intentional killing of patients who have been diagnosed with a terminal disease. Reading some of the different issues faced with ending the lives of patients, we tend to gather our own feelings and opinions about what we would want facing a similar situation of Brittany Maynard’s. When strong willed individuals such as Jack Kevorkian and Brittany Maynard take a stand in what they believe in assisted suicide, gains the support of many free willed Americans. As a healthcare provider, we are forced to put the well being of a patient first. With our patients being priority, the last thing we think of while caring for a patient is to end their life. Should physician-assisted suicide become legal?
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