Dying with Dignity

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Abstract

Dying with dignity is all about physicians aiding their terminally or critically ill patients with only less than 6 months to live to die quickly but with more autonomy, respect and dignity. This process that is only legal in six states across the country demands confirmation of diagnosis by two physicians  and a written request by the patient that has to be mentally stable. It involves slow administration of end of life medication after ceasing all the other medication and allowing patient time to interact with family and friends before death. It is however opposed by religious individuals on grounds of killing that is against the commandments.

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Introduction

As of January, 2016, over 1700 people have died in the states of Oregon and Washington over death with dignity having ingested the legally prescribed drugs to speed their deaths comfortably (CNN, 2016). These are only statistics for two out of the six states that have been legally allowed in the US to carry out death with dignity or physician assisted death as is commonly known. This is a legal step and hence not considered murder or even a form of suicide as there are legal measures and Acts passed to support this action  by both patients and physicians in the states reported above. The death with dignity statistics and specifically the number of people using the medications to hasten their deaths is on the increase if all the figures of those using the medication and those that have died with dignity in this manner can be truthfully reported.

Death with dignity is also known as physician-assisted death, compassionate death or even aid in dying. It is commonly carried out on the patients that have terminal illnesses and have less than 6 months to live. These patients have to have confirmation of their death timeline by at least two highly qualified physicians and make formal request to have death with dignity. It is usually performed using medication that will speed up their dying process without pain and allow them death with dignity, respect, compassion and even preparedness. This process is however only legally practiced in six states in the US, although it is common in other nations such as England, Germany, France and even Italy among others. The states it is allowed in the US include Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Vermont, Montana and even California (Warnes, 2014). It was first made legal in Oregon between 1994 and 1997.

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In this paper, I will discuss in great lengths the history of death with dignity Acts in the six states mentioned above. This will include the background of these Acts in order to understand the topic better. I will also enumerate the reasons that have been provided about the need for implementation of the death with dignity acts in these states and support my reasons with examples. Other than providing the above information which is in support of the death with dying actions by both physicians and patients, I will provide an opposing viewpoint from the religious dogma point of view. This will give an alternative to the reasons that will have been made in the claims above. Lastly, a recap of all these information and a final conclusion that supports the need for death with dignity will be provided in the conclusion section of the paper.

Background

Over the recent years, there has been an increase in the number of terminal illnesses that lead to patients demanding critical care to the end of their lives. This means months of hospitalization, great unbearable pain, need for palliative care, psychological torture for the relatives and an end that is unexpected and not anticipated or fully prepared for. This is not only for the patients but for their family, friends and even physicians. All these are what are being considered by the death with dignity issue. It allows for the patients to be physically and mentally prepared for the oncoming death with dignity, comfort and even connection with family and friends. The administration of the drugs that will slowly end their lives makes the comfortable enough to spend time with their loved ones, prepare for the death and even preserve their dignity through it all (Cook & Rocker, 2014).

Reasons or Evidence to Support your Claim

Patient autonomy over their deaths and especially those that are in critical care and have only a few months to live prior to 1994 in Oregon had been non-existent. These patients simply waited for their time to die and it was a slow and painful death to not only these patients but their loved ones as well. The suffering of such patients who are in palliative care in hospices or even in critical care units in hospitals limits the time spent with friends and families as well as fail to prepare the concerned parties including the patient for their eventual death. It also led to the increase in the number of patients committing suicide simply to evade the immeasurable physical pain to themselves and psychological torture to their families. The death with dignity Act in Oregon minimized these suicide cases by a large margin according to research by (Francis, 2016).

The care provided to patients in critical care and almost at the end of their lives is simply without compassion but the physicians and other care givers but simply on reflex. They keep them sedated most of the time to avoid their discomfort and to minimize the pain levels. This minimizes the interaction of patients with the care givers as individuals but rather as automatons. Patients in this state of health and mind anticipating death with fear have no one to talk to, they are curtailed of their loved ones and the only interaction is with physicians and even this is minimized. The dying with dignity issue allows the interaction that is lacking without it. Physicians are forced to interact on a more personal level with their patients as they administer the end of life medication and talk to the patients preparing them for the eventuality (Purvis, 2012).

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The death with dignity Acts in the six states of Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Vermont, Montana and California provide the patients with terminal illnesses and only less than six months to live an alternative to life and their final time on earth. With cancer patients for example that are terminally ill, they only have the option of continued chemotherapy and radiation therapy treatments until their death. This vigorous treatment kills them faster than the disease itself as it means they are always hooked on IVs with no hope of prolonging their lives. The Acts however ensure that they have an alternative to that (Loggers, et al, 2013). They can have less timeline on earth but spend it however they wish. All they need is the medication to aid in their deaths and they can avoid the aggressive treatments. This alternative renews a spirit within them that livens them up than was the case in the absence of the Acts.

Addressing the Opposite Side

An opposing view of the death with dignity action and Acts and which is a very strong one is based on the religious dogma of human life and the commandment of not killing. Essentially, when the physicians provide the medication to their terminally ill patients that aid them to die, they are according to religious standards taking the life of the individual. The scriptures and other religious teachings condemn the act of any human being taking the life of another as they will be performing the role of God and hence defying him (Ordway, 2017). The religious fanatics are therefore wholly against the passing of the act of death with dignity and this is the reason that most states are yet to take up this form of stand. The opposition sites strong religious arguments that simply cannot be overridden by the rest of the statesmen and women.

Conclusion

Death with dignity is an alternative way for the terminally and critically ill patients to die with respect, dignity and autonomy under the aid of their physicians. This gives them an alternative of waiting months of agony and pain that tortures them physically and their loved ones psychologically. This form of death also allows for their physicians and care givers to treat them more as human beings rather than objects of automation of medication and round the clock care with painkillers and critical care provision. With the death with dignity Acts being passed in various states around the country and even in other nations as well, it allows for the patients to choose an alternative way to die that guarantees them better end days with their family and friends than would have been the case without the assistance of the physicians with end of life medication.

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This topic is important to discuss as people need awareness and the separation of ethics or religious theories that may affect the happiness and comfort of the people that are dying. Awareness of the importance of this issue with the patients that already have a death sentence on their heads should not be used against them. In any case, there is discussion with more than one physician about the diagnosis and even an authorization by the patient that is mentally stable before any action can be undertaken. The end of life dignity of such patients and their prolonged suffering should not take place at the expense of a few people. It is a choice that people should be left to make without making them feeling guilty about it or opposing it vehemently. It is an act that other states should emulate as well.

The number of people committing suicide as a result of being terminally ill, notwithstanding the pain anymore and even being assisted to die by other illegally is high as explained in the references above. This is a number that can be reduced if the death with dignity Act is passed in all the states around the country. It will provide an opportunity for the deaths to be legally conducted, eliminate criminal charges on physicians that act in good faith to aid their patients and eliminate guilt from the relatives that aid in the suicide. If this act is not passed, these numbers of deaths will only be on the increase and many people will end up in jail over the matter even though they were only acting in good humanitarian faith to end their suffering and misery of their loved ones or patients.

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In light of the discussion above, many people fail to agree with the death with dignity issue as they have not experienced firsthand or even in proxy the suffering of a terminally ill close friend or even relative. This is a decision that many would support if they are to come face to face with the sufferings of a bone cancer patient for example who has to be hooked up to pain medication 24 hours a day. The patient cannot have visitors due to the immense pain and the relatives and friends have to observe the suffering from a far. People that oppose this idea should seek terminally ill patients or get first-hand accounts from their relatives and friends before they can easily dismiss or oppose the dying with dignity Act being implemented across the country for that that wishes to adopt it.

Did you like this sample?
  1. Cook, D. & Rocker, G. (2014). Dying with Dignity in the Intensive Care Unit. The New England Journal of Medicine, 370, 2506-2514.
  2. Francis, N. (2016). Physician use of misinformation to speculate ‘assisted dying suicide contagion’ in Oregon. Journal of Assisted Dying, 1(1), 1-6.
  3. Purvis, T. (2012). Debating Death: Religion, Politics, and the Oregon Death With Dignity Act. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 85(2), 271-284.
  4. Loggers, E., Starks, H., Shanon-Dudley, M., Back, A., Appelbaum, F. & Stewart, M. (2013). Implementing a Death with Dignity Program at a Comprehensive Cancer Center. The New England Journal of Medicine, 368, 1417-1424.
  5. Ordway, H. (2017). Apologetics and the Christian Imagination: An Integrated Approach to Defending the Faith. Ohio: Emmaus Road Publishing.
  6. Warnes, S. (2014, July 18). How many people choose assisted suicide where it is legal? The Guardian.
  7. CNN. (2016, June 7). Physician-assisted suicide fast facts. CNN.
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