ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Should Quality of Life Include the Right to Die?

Updated on April 7, 2012

© by Jennifer McLeod writing as jenjen0703, all rights reserved.

"Dying is not a crime." ~Jack Kevorkian


"Right to Death" Debate

Have you ever thought about what you would do if you were diagnosed with a terminal illness? Would you fight with every ounce of being against the disease to prolong your life? Would you let nature take its course and leave this life when your illness takes you? Or would you prefer to avoid massive suffering for you and your family and choose your time of death?

Euthanasia in humans, also referred to as the physician-assisted suicide, has been a topic of heated controversy and debate for a long time. This is unfortunate for those who are suffering because there are other aspects of life that gives people the right to choose death.

A woman can become pregnant, decide that raising the baby is going to be an inconvenience, and have a doctor perform an abortion to kill that baby. If someone's 13-year old dog becomes ill with cancer, the owner can pay a veterinarian to euthanize the dog so there is little suffering. In states where capital punishment is still legal, the government can choose to end the lives of certain criminals. We have the right to smoke cigarettes, hence, increasing the chances of contracting cancer or other serious health-related issues. We even have the right to choose the DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) option and refuse life-saving techniques if that is the only way we will stay alive. This is an indirect choice to die, also known as the "Right to Die."

Playing God

Doctors are not here just to make us well and save our lives, but they are responsible for helping patients receive the quality of life they want for themselves. Doctors can only do so much in some circumstances, though. After a person hears the news that their illness is terminal, it changes their perspective on life.

Some terminal illnesses are tolerable, and the patient can live the rest of his or her life without terrible discomfort. Other illnesses, such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease) is debilitating and can cause the patient to lose all control of bodily functions, including the ability to brush their own teeth and eat normal meals. Victims of ALS will need total medical and personal care before the disease claims their life. For more information on ALS, visit the ALS Association.

Religious advocates debate against the "Right to Die" because they believe it goes against God's plan for our lives. Tell this to a dying woman who has no enjoyment in life because of excruciating pain and endless pain medications.

I came across a video clip called "The Suicide Tourist." It is an interesting series about ALS sufferer Craig Ewert and his decision to end his life. If this topic is one that you have mixed feelings about, watch the video. It helped me obtain a better understanding about the "Right to Die."

Unnecessary Prolonging of Life

On the flip side, consider the story involving Teri Schiavo, who collapsed from cardiac and respiratory arrest in 1990. She suffered from irreparable brain damage from oxygen deprivation. Her husband did not want to keep her alive on a feeding tube because that was not what she wanted. Her family fought him in court and was able to keep her alive on life support for 15 years. Eventually, the court's decision was overturned, and Schiavo's feeding tube was removed, and she died a couple weeks later. An autopsy showed her brain was only have its normal size, and she had been kept alive for 15 years for nothing. If Schiavo's "Right to Die" had been respected, millions in healthcare costs could have been saved and used for patients that had a chance to live.

When there are no signs of recovery for the patient in a situation such as this, should there be mandated amounts of time set forth by law? Some people will disagree and say that goes against the patients right to have "quality of life"

Should people have the "Right to Die" if they become terminally ill?

See results

The Final Step

Once a person makes the decision to end their life, they have to decide where to go to receive that type of help. Physician-assisted suicide is illegal in most parts of America, and many patients have to travel to other countries to receive assistance. The legalities of physician-assisted suicide is currently being addressed in the government. According to The Atlantic (1997), the Hippocratic Oath states that physicians are to "neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it, nor make a suggestion to this effect." This oath was implemented at a time when doctors were commonly performing physician-assisted suicides for patients suffering from minor ailments such as foot infections, gall stones, and senility.

The most important thing to remember about physician-assisted suicide is that the patient is in charge of his or her choices all along. They have to be able to consent to the suicide and ingest the drugs themselves. In most cases of physician-assisted suicide, a cocktail of barbiturates is prepared and given to the patient to drink. Within a few minutes, the patient will become groggy and fall asleep. There is no suffering, and once the patient is asleep, the heart will stop and the patient will die.

In the event of terminal illness, is physician-assisted suicide a good choice? That is not for me to answer. I am not an advocate for physician-assisted suicide. I believe in a person's choice to decide their own quality of life for themselves. As Craig Ewert explained in "The Suicide Tourist," his choice to die was made before he and his family had to endure more suffering. He was more concerned with the stress it would cause his family if he chose to stay alive.

Your right to decide your quality of life should be your right and no one else's.

If you have lost someone you love to death, read How to Cope with Death without Losing Your Sanity.

My "Foster" Dad

I have known my "foster" dad, Ed, since I was a little girl. My parents were friends with him and his wife, and we attended the same church on a weekly basis. Ed's son was a good friend of mine and my brother's. I loved these people and time moved us all across the country from each other.

About ten years ago, I ran into Ed out of the blue and quickly rekindled my friendships with his family.

Ed was diagnosed with a serious lung disease that would eventually cause his lungs to shed out the internal lining. At some point, his lungs would collapse just prior to death. Ed outlived the original estimated time of death and maybe lived a year longer than the doctors thought he would.

Ed was on oxygen full-time for at least a couple years before he passed away. Everyone knew he was going to die someday, it was just a matter of when. Right before he finally went to the hospital, he was spending 90% of his time in bed.

I got the call that he had been taken to the emergency room because he was having some complications. The phone call came from Ed's daughter-in-law, who is one of the ditziest women I have ever met, had me in a panic, like he was on his deathbed right then.

Ed's Final Request from Me

The last time I went and visited Ed and his wife, he gave me a good-bye hug (typical for Ed unless he was sleeping). This particular day, he held me a few moments longer and whispered quietly in my ear. "Please take care of mom, don't leave her alone." He made me promise, and I left crying because that was an odd request coming from Ed. We were close, but at the time I did not realize just how close we really were.

So, when the son's girlfriend called and said they had taken him to the hospital, I dropped what I was doing and immediately raced over to the hospital. I loved Ed immensely, and he must have been around 79 when he died, his wife was pushing 70. She cared for Ed until his final hospitalization and resulting death.

I got to the hospital and was immediately cleared to enter the emergency room where Ed was. They were already expecting me. I entered the room where Ed was, and paused, shocked at what I was seeing. He was sitting there, laughing with everyone and talking with a chest tube in him.

Have you ever had to watch a loved one die in the final stages of a terminal illness?

See results

The Final Days

During that time, he became progressively weaker and had one lung that had collapsed. After two weeks, his other lung collapsed. There was no hope of recovery for him.

The day before his death, I received a call from his son saying they would be meeting with the doctors later that afternoon and gave me the time of the meeting. I left work early and went back to the hospital.

I walked into the ICU where Ed was being kept. He was completely sedated now and was unable to feed himself, talk, or do much of anything else. When I walked into his room, no one was there except a patient. When I looked at him, I noticed a very large and swollen man. Truthfully, I freaked out and wanted to know what they did with Ed, and who this man was in his place.

I backed out into the hallway and saw that I had the correct room number, so I walked back in. Before I flagged down a nurse, I glanced over at the windowsill and saw Ed's wife's Christmas sweater folded neatly on the ledge. Talk about freaking out. I looked back at the patient and realized it was Ed. His organs had begun to shut down the previous night, and he had begun to swell terribly. He looked like a light version of a sumo wrestler.

I was alone with Ed in his room and did not know where anyone was. I knew he was sedated but was sure he could hear some things. I walked over to him and put my hand on his shoulder and stood there. There were no words that could express anything at this point.

I leaned over and kissed his cheek and told him it was an honor growing up to know him, that I loved putting up the tree every year with his now 13-year old foster daughter while he watched from his chair, that I was glad we got to reunite later in life and got the opportunity to know each other again I told him I loved him and that I would keep my promise not to leave his wife alone. I spent several minutes alone with him rubbing his shoulder, and then I left to find his wife.

She was in a conference room with the doctors and her family members. She was crying into a Kleenex (the second time I ever saw her cry) and a chair had been saved for me next to her. I stayed with her throughout his death.

At first, when they took him off the breathing tube, she stayed in the hallway and sobbed. She could not stand to see it happen. Once they removed the breathing tube, Ed suffocated to death.

And sedated or not, he still sat up and attempted to get away. It was one of the most traumatizing things I have witnessed in my life. And, because he had been on oxygen for so long and had finally stopped taking any breaths at all, it took nearly two hours for his heart to finally stop beating.

He was a totally sane and coherent man throughout all of this. He knew what his fate would be. I supposed at any time, he could have chosen the "physician-assisted suicide" approach, but he chose stay alive as long as he could.That takes great faith and strength. He was a Believer of God and knew the way to the Kingdom of God.

Right vs. Wrong?

I felt the need to share this story to show what it is like for the families of patients who have to care for them until their deaths, to give an insiders point of view.

I feel it should be the patient's right to decide their way to die in a situation such as Ed's. He did choose how he wanted to die.

But, might it have been easier for his wife and family to have seen him in a state of mind where he swallows some medicine and just goes to sleep? No gasping for air, no panic in his eyes as he suffocates to death?

Whose right is it to decide?


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • quildon profile image

      Angela Joseph 5 years ago from Florida

      Merry Christmas to you too, Jen.

    • JenJen0703 profile image

      Jennifer McLeod 5 years ago from Battle Creek, Michigan

      Thanks to all my fellow hubbers for the excellent feedback on this article. I was surprised at the amount of responses from everyone. Merry Christmas!

    • chefsref profile image

      Lee Raynor 6 years ago from Citra Florida

      Hey JenJen

      Beautiful and thought provoking hub, voted up and a new follower

      At one time people would die at home surrounded by friends and family and make a peaceful exit. Now we will be in a hospital room surrounded by techs, nurses and doctors. The most unlucky among us will die hooked up to machines and tubes that prevent death but do nothing to prolong life worth living.

      It is tragic that we are denied a peaceful death assisted by a doctor but anyone can get a gun and splatter brains around the room.

    • Kathryn L Hill profile image

      Kathryn L Hill 6 years ago from LA

      Well said!

    • profile image

      Sueswan 6 years ago

      Hi Jen

      You have done a great job of writing about a very sensitive issue.

      I would fight with all I have if I were diagnosed with a terminal illness.

      If I was hooked up to a machine and being pumped full of drugs to stop agonizing pain then I would want the plug pulled.

      Voted up and awesome.

    • Kathryn L Hill profile image

      Kathryn L Hill 6 years ago from LA

      Perhaps the question, Should we prolong the process of death artificially? is part of the discussion. I think that if one wants to die naturally then that is fine. Sammy Davis Junior decided not to take cancer treatments. With all his money! (So, I heard somewhere.)

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

      Gosh, this is definitely a heated issue. I had no idea that some people will go so far as to leave the country just so that they might go somewhere where people have the right to die. Intense!

    • debbie roberts profile image

      Debbie Roberts 6 years ago from Greece

      Such a difficult subject to talk open openly, but it is also an important subject. A persons quality of life is so important and like you said we can choose when we think the time is right to end our pets life to stop any pain and suffering they are feeling, so it should only be right for terminally ill people to be able to choose when to die if that is their wish. I think people know when they've had enough of living and can't take any more of being prodded and poked and if they want to bow out gracefully then they should be allowed to, so long as they are fully imformed and it is obviously their wish and theirs alone.

      A very good, thought provoking hub.

    • profile image

      Rixar13 6 years ago

      Should people have the "Right to Die" if they become terminally ill?

      100% Yes

    • JenJen0703 profile image

      Jennifer McLeod 6 years ago from Battle Creek, Michigan

      I agree, Cherylone. It was difficult to watch my foster dad die slowly. It was more difficult to watch my 70-year old foster mother care for him full-time while she still continues to raise foster children. This topic raises great debate among people, and I am amazed at the feedback and amount of input. I believe in God, and I believe that we do have a pre-destined time. But, I do not believe that same God, who died on that cross to take away my sin and is all-powerful, all-love, and understands the pain of the suffering, will love a person less for making the choice to end their suffering. If decision like that would block someone from coming to God if they are a believer, then saying that God is love is contradictory, I think. My future in Heaven is secure, and believing in God does not make us immortal on earth. I do not think physician-assisted suicide should be taken lightly, and such situations should be examined on an individual basis. Craig Ewert's decision was made, partly, out of selflessness, to ease the suffering of his family.

    • cherylone profile image

      Cheryl Simonds 6 years ago from Connecticut

      Painful, controversial, and frightening in a way. I recently watched my mother die in a Hospice suite from cancer and I can tell you that it was hard on her and on the family. I believe that there must be a better way. Why must we suffer with such hardships when there are so many wonderful scientific discoveries to make things easier and quality of life better? It's kinda like the Wright brothers who were trying to make a plane fly, look where we are with that controversial issue. I believe we should all have the right to make the choice for ourselves, not have the choice made for us, that makes us no longer free, but reliant on those who are supposed to rule based on the peoples choices but usually choose whatever makes them the most.

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 6 years ago from Riga, Latvia

      Painful subject. I know a saying that incorporates all difficult situations It's better to shoot yourself! Anyway yes if the quality of life gets taken away by pain and misery then it's better to go to God.

    • JenJen0703 profile image

      Jennifer McLeod 6 years ago from Battle Creek, Michigan

      Thanks, Quildon. I also believe in God, so this topic raised much question and awareness in me. I think that this decision should only be made when it is the person's last choice. Truthfully, there are other indirect ways of happening. My foster dad died 2 years ago from a terminal illness that caused his lungs to finally collapse. He could have lived awhile on life support, but he would have been miserable, and there was no way he would have survived without it. At that point, he wanted that breathing tube removed so he could go home to God. I do not believe in suicide, but I believe hospice care for terminally ill people is different and needs to be evaluated individually.

    • quildon profile image

      Angela Joseph 6 years ago from Florida

      Hi JenJen, (that's my granddaughter's nickname by the way) I think you presented your argument very well and I understand what you said about the quality of life etc. etc. I don't know what I would do if I, or one of my loved ones was faced with a terminal illness, but as a Christian it's not my right to decide when or how I die. That is in God's hands. But what I do know is that I would not like to be kept alive by a machine.

    • Kathryn L Hill profile image

      Kathryn L Hill 6 years ago from LA

      This is a hard question, but consider that keeping one's awareness might bring some benefit. I believe in hanging on as long as the body does. Enlightenment comes in the hardest of times. To die with one's awareness intact, no matter what is going on in the the body, is the best thing for the spirit which cannot die.. Just keep focusing how you want to be when you pass... awake or asleep... I want to be awake and I would want to focus on my soul over my body at all costs. Until my body lets me go I will focus on and find will pull me through any pain, but pain IS the problem. With many older people their hearts just give out one day. If we keep ourselves healthy and be proactive, we might be able to avoid the misery of disease (the cause of pain) in old age.

      Also consider that the Karma for suicide is reincarnation into a deformed body. Appreciate the beautiful body the soul gets to drive around in. The blueprint could be altered the next time around if we don't.

    • justmesuzanne profile image

      justmesuzanne 6 years ago from Texas

      Death is a part of life, and people should have the right to choose whether they prefer quantity of life or quality of life. Voted up and awesome! :)

    • JenJen0703 profile image

      Jennifer McLeod 6 years ago from Battle Creek, Michigan

      As part of my school assignment, we had to write about this topic. I watched several videos on YouTube and was amazed. Each person who used barbiturates to end their life did not experience pain and suffering during their death. They simply went to sleep peacefully. A woman in one of the videos was laughing and talking with her friends and family up until the point that she fell asleep. Peaceful, as it should be.

    • Windclimber profile image

      Windclimber 6 years ago from my boat somewhere on the Chesapeake Bay

      Well done!

      I think it was in Kubler-Ross's On Death and Dying the idea that people face death exactly the same way they face life. That statement covers a large array of behavior, but on top of the list are two that are easy to explain: denial and acceptance. Death is not pleasant, and it is seldom comfortable (read Nuland's "How We Die"), but it is inescapable. It is inevitable, so if it is immininent, and you're satisfied with whatever spiritual preparation you may or may not have done, why prolong the pain? And on a purely practical tack, why not spend the last of your money on the grandkids' college funds instead of morphine? (Either passed on, or pharmaceutically whacked out of your gourd, either way, you're simply not ABLE to participate in the life you've had.)

      One last comment: you mention DNR's and legal abortion. What about the legality of killing yourself slowly via tobacco, excessive alcohol consumption, over-eating, and hell, general stupidity?

      Oh, one MORE last comment! My mother died (of cancer) literally in my arms, and I can describe my feelings about it in one word: bittersweet. Yes, you CAN - in the spirit of love - be happy for someone's death.

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi JenJen...In Switzerland, an enlightened nation, every household is obliged to keep a weapon in the case of a war. Then they have a standing army of the whole population and they don't have to waste a fortune on soldiers in peacetime (always in Switzer). They also have enlightened views on suicide and have clinics there to ease the trauma of departing this mortal coil. Maybe, Swiss-like, every one should keep a suicide pill in their houses to end their lives as they see fit, surely everyone's right? At 72, one of my preoccupations is whether I will possess the strength and opportunity to end my life should terminal disease strike. R Good and topical article.

    • JenJen0703 profile image

      Jennifer McLeod 6 years ago from Battle Creek, Michigan

      My foster dad passed away 2 years ago from a terminal illness, and I was with him when he died. Seeing death up close and personal made me re-evaluate my position on physician-assisted suicide.

    • YogaKat profile image

      YogaKat 6 years ago from Oahu Hawaii

      Yes - absolutely, each person in each situation is different. People have the right to die. I endured two deaths in 2010/2011. My Dad and my dog. I had to put my baby dog - okay 7 years old - to sleep because of bone cancer. My dad succumbed to a heart attack a few months before. Their quality of life was hindered by their physical conditions. I truly waited to the last minute to give my Amber that lethal shot. .

    • JenJen0703 profile image

      Jennifer McLeod 6 years ago from Battle Creek, Michigan

      I agree LadyLyell, this is a very controversial subject. I would never have thought to write on this topic, except I had to research it for college earlier this week, and it got me thinking...

    • LadyLyell profile image

      LadyLyell 6 years ago from George, South Africa

      This is such a controversial subject!

      To me it is obvious that when there is no quality of life for one, to rest in peace is a blessing!

      Thought provoking!