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Death With Dignity: A Matter of Compassion

Updated on December 17, 2013

The Death With Dignity Act

The Death with Dignity act includes specifications for the applicable patients and doctors. The patient must be an adult resident of WA whom is predicted to die within 6 months. It must be determined by two physicians that the diagnosis is terminal and that the client is competent enough to make an informed decision. Specifically, the patient needs to orally request suicide twice, with 15 days in between, followed by a written request. If the patient’s mental state is in question, the doctor may postpone the request until a psychiatrist determines competency. When a terminal patient is approved for death with dignity, the doctor will prescribe a life-ending medication, to be administered only by the patient himself.

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Controversy and Debate

When this measure was proposed, a major debate ensued. Death with dignity was no longer taboo, and quality of life became a topic for discussion. Many stories of dying loved ones were brought up, which made the debate quite emotional. Opponents named the measure “assisted suicide.” People in favor of the law argued that there were many safeguards in effect that prevented violations. Since Oregon’s initiative has been in effect, no abuses of the law were reported. People against this law argued that the safeguards may be ineffective, due to under-reporting of cases. Opponents believe that complete palliative care is sufficient for the end of a dying person’s life. They feel that the law will undermine the moral integrity of the medical profession. Proponents of the law say that a person in great pain has the right to quicken their impending death in a dignified manner. Terminally ill patients reported that their desire to die was due to their loss of autonomy and dignity. They were unable to perform everyday activities or hobbies that they enjoy. Other reasons were: a lack of bodily functions, inadequate pain control, and the worry of burdening their loved ones.

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A Right to Die

In years to come, the Death with Dignity Act will inevitably reach the US Supreme Court. Considering that voters in WA and Oregon approved the measure, it has implications for a national vote. The patient cases in those states are examples of how death with dignity is successful and accepted. Some people who oppose assisted suicide are concerned that voters will approve the law without considering the details. Some disagree with the law because they feel it will bring down the moral integrity of the medical field. All US citizens that have a terminal illness should have the opportunity make this choice, along with the support of their loved ones. In order to comply with patient’s wishes to die, physicians must feel comfortable with the decision and not worry about being prosecuted. Right-to-die activists hope that someday the assisted suicide will become a constitutional right for every person who meets the criteria. It is known that the act of committing suicide, even if unsuccessful, is not a crime. This law is beneficial to protect physicians from prosecution, because they are only doing what the patient truly wants. This compassionate law is in the best interest of dying people and will uphold the basic human right of dignity for all.

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