OP-ED: The Right to Die

Brayden Preskenis, Sophomore

Your dog has it, but your loved ones do not. Some call it dignity, some call it mercy, but everyone should be able to call it a human right. Routinely, we “put down” our pets that that have a terminal disease and are in debilitating pain. Similarly, as a society we have the moral duty to allow our loved-ones this choice: to end life when excruciating pain and distress is too much.

The Death with Dignity Act is a piece of legislation that has passed in 6 states including California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and Washington DC. The Death with Dignity Act gives physicians the ability to prescribe a lethal, humane, medical cocktail, to be self-administered, to terminally-ill patients with 6 months or less to live. While this might seem crude and barbaric to some Americans, this act has drawn select citizens from neighboring states, in the hope of a death on their terms.

This is a question of autonomy. the right to choose how your story merges with the end of your life. Every human should have the right to mercy. This legislation is in preparation for worst-case scenarios making the passing of loved ones as pain-free, timely, and humane as possible.

While this legislation has the possibility to change the lives of thousands for the better this is legislation that hits close to home for my family. Having a family history of early onset Alzheimer’s on one side and cancer on the other, this legislation alleviates pain not only for my closest family members, but also potentially my own.

By legalizing the Death with Dignity Act nationally, thousands of suffering citizens will have the opportunity to die on their terms. With that said, very few pursue these end of life drugs. According to the Oregon Death with Dignity Act Data summary of 2016, 204 Oregonians suffering from terminal illnesses or diseases were prescribed these drugs in 2016 and just over 50% percent actually used them. This evidence provides proof that assisted suicide has not been normalized.  It is not being utilized as an “easy out” for depressed people as some opponents of this act might have you think. This low percent shows that often people change their mind but for those who need it, it is crucial.

Only the individual can calculate this equation: is my quality of life so diminished that death would be welcome? There is no algorithm.  Some politicians have claimed that this legislation will force the hand of terminally ill to take these meds because of the potential pressure from their families.  To say this decision is complex is an understatement. It is never an easy decision. However, the crude idea of siblings or adult children forcing their terminally ill loved one to take life-ending meds is not only a horrific concept, but nationwide, over the past 15 years, there have been zero cases of this.

If a grandfather, living in Alabama with terminal, painful, and increasingly debilitating brain cancer was given four months to live, and his two children were being deployed overseas to defend our country in two months, should he have the right to pass-away  in his own home, surrounded by the cherished artifacts, memories, his golden retriever, and his loved ones? Or, unable to live independently, should he be forced to remain alive and subsequently moved to an institution and spend the remaining weeks or months in obscurity with minimal care, no affection, no dog, and no love?      

Clearly, he should have the right to choose the second option.  However, he should also have the right to choose the first. Though this scenario is rare and every scenario is different the idea of giving the same option to your terminally ill mother as your beloved dog or cat when they were suffering seems straightforward.

Mercy has never been a partisan issue. Since the Civil War the act of taking the life of a suffering person upon their request was considered not only the right thing to do but was also a sign of respect. Mercy was used as it should be, when asked for to minimize suffering. We must offer to all citizens of the United States the same mercy in the 21st century with physician-assisted suicide for our loved ones as we do for our pets and as we did in the 1860s with wounded soldiers.