10 May 2018
Should Terminally Ill Patients Be Allowed to Choose When Their Life Ends?
A once healthy person lies in a hospital bed, a shell of the person they were only a few years ago. Their body is wracked with pain that can no longer be controlled with medication. The technical term for what they have is terminal illness but what it really means is they are going to die; it may be tomorrow or it may be years from tomorrow but death will happen. Modern medicine has done all they can do but there is no cure and, barring a miracle, death will come. Do they know when? No one does so they wait. While they wait, each day is met with the worried faces of the people that love them, a pain wracked body, medications that make them so tired they can’t think straight or renders them unconscious. The one thing they do know is they are ready to be done with this life, free from pain and reunited with loved ones who have gone before them. They have been asking for weeks to be allowed to end their life but live in one of the 45 states that will not allow assisted suicide. This takes away their right to choose the quality of life they will have, leaves their family with medical expenses, and denies them the right to die with dignity.
There are many reasons terminally ill people choose to stop treatment and end their life. One of those is the quality of life over quantity of life way of thinking. The people who believe this way would argue that just because modern medicine can help one live longer doesn’t mean one should. The thought of living with constant pain, treatments, whose side effects are as bad as or worse than the illness it is treating does not appeal to them. This way of thinking is often misinterpreted as giving up when in truth it is simply a choice to do things ones own way. Amy Berman, a woman diagnosed with stage four metastatic breast cancer, said, “I wanted to have as much quality of life as possible and didn’t want to go to battle if there was no reason to go to battle” (Zellick). She and her family valued her quality of life and made choices that would allow her to be in control of every aspect of her medical care including her death.
Another reason people choose to end their life is to not be a financial burden on their families. When undergoing treatment for terminal illnesses there are usually long hospital stays, therapies and home health expenses. Toward the end of the illness there are stays in intensive care units, critical care units and other specialized care facilities. These stays quickly add up to insurmountable debt with the average cost of ICU being $10,000 per day, and once discharged to a skilled nursing unit that cost is $622 per day (Author). The costs further skyrocket once one includes specialists, medical equipment needed at home, home health nursing care, prescriptions – both pharmaceutical and homeopathic, and time lost at work for both the patient and their caregiver. These expenses leave the family, even when they have insurance, with insurmountable debt and could lead to bankruptcy. Of the 1.4 million bankruptcies in 2009, 62.1 percent of them were due to medical expenses (Amadeo). Dealing with a terminal illness and imminent death of a loved one is emotional and stressful enough, but then one has the added stress of medical bills and paying them long after their death. No family should have to deal with the worry of paying the medical bills as well.
Another reason some people may choose to end their life is they feel that they have become a burden to their families. It is a well-known fact that nine times out of ten the primary caregiver for a person with a terminal illness is either the spouse and or the child. Something that most people fail to tell these generous people who offer a helping hand to their loved ones is that they are signing up for a stressful job to say the least. They have “multiple competing priorities” which causes them to have “negative health effects” (Bevans). The last thing a person who is dying wants to do is put stress on their loved one. They want them to live the last days of their with them to the fullest.
Many people who are pro assisted suicide argue that refusing to allow a person to choose assisted suicide is denying them the implied right to die with dignity. The advances in medical technology have made it possible for a person to stay alive by being placed on machines that breathe for them, and receive nutrition through tubes. A person could lie in a bed for months alive but not living life. Where is the dignity in that? This also places the further burden of a family member having to make the decision to “pull the plug” that would end their loved one’s life. Desmond Tutu, an eighty-three-year old archbishop said, “I hope to be treated with compassion and allowed to pass onto the next phase of my life’s journey in the manner of my choice” (Niekerk).
Finally, to make it more personal, put yourself in the shoes of a person with a terminal illness. Think about what your wishes would be for not only yourself but also those you love. Would you like to be bed ridden, frail, miserable, and not able to live your last days to the fullest? Do you want your family to make a decision to end your life or would you like to be the one who says, I am ready to pass on. To many the choice is obvious. It should be made clear as well, that if a person chooses assisted suicide and then changes their mind when the time comes, it will not happen. Whether you agree with assisted suicide or not, you should agree that everyone should have the right to make this choice for themselves
Amadeo, Kimberly. “Do Medical Bills Really Bankrupt America’s Families?” The Balance, www.thebalance.com/medical-bankruptcy-statistics-4154729.
Author Bill Fay Staff Writer. “Hospice and End-of-Life Options and Costs.” Debt.org, www.debt.org/medical/hospice-costs/Bevans, Margaret F., and Ester M. Sternberg. Jama, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 25 Jan. 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3304539/.
Niekerk, Anton van. “We Have A Right to Die with Dignity. The Medical Profession Has a Duty to Assist.” The Conversation, 29 Apr. 2018, theconversation.com/we-have-a-right-to-die-with-dignity-the-medical-profession-has-a-duty-to-assist-67574.
Zellick, Tory. “Live Longer or Comfortably? 4 Palliative Care Questions To Ask.” Huffpost, Huffpost, 15 April. 2013, m.huffpost.com/us/entry/2631556.