Physician Assisted Suicide an Unalienable Right?

In our Declaration of Independence, we Americans are guaranteed certain rights, including the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. However, the Founding Fathers said nothing about our right to die. Loosely interpreted, though, one could assume that “pursuit of happiness” inherently includes the right to end our own suffering. The problem is that most state legislatures don’t buy that interpretation.

Several weeks ago, the Minnesota legislature held hearings on whether to legalize physician-assisted suicide. The bill, which had been under consideration for nearly 10 years, would allow adults to obtain drugs that would end their own life if they are suffering with a terminal illness and “have less than six months to live.” Minnesota native Nancy Unde, who has terminal brain cancer, supports the bill, telling the Associated Press that she “wants the right to choose a peaceful, painless death on her own terms.”

Currently, 10 states permit physician-assisted suicide (PAS). They are: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. The District of Columbia also allows PAS. Oregon was the first state to legalize physician-assisted suicide back in 1994. That came just four years after Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s first public assisted suicide, for which he was charged with murder. Charges were later dropped by a Michigan judge because Kevorkian had broken no specific law.

The law finally caught up with Kevorkian after 60 Minutes broadcast a videotape of “Dr. Death” administering a lethal injection to a terminally ill man. Even though the patient gave his consent, Kevorkian was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to eight years in prison. Following his death in 2011, public sentiment seemed to soften to the idea of physician-assisted suicide, still, none of the 40 other states are rushing to legalize this controversial procedure. The question is, why?

According to a Gallup poll, 68% of Americans say doctors should be legally allowed to assist their patients in committing suicide. But as we know, laws don’t always follow public sentiment. In this case, there are a number of powerful factions who oppose legalization. One is the Catholic Church which, according to the Catholic News Agency, says, “Intentional euthanasia, whatever its forms or motives, is murder.” Others who oppose making physician-assisted suicide legal are members of the medical profession who believe that offering to help a patient die goes against their code of healing and pledge to do no harm.

Beyond that, there are also medical reasons not to support physician-assisted suicide. One is that medications used in the procedure don’t always work. The Oregon Health Authority conducted a study of 1,857 patients who engaged in legal euthanasia and seven of them regained consciousness. Another reason is faulty data given to patients. A study by the University of Chicago, for example, found that only 37% of terminally ill patients receive an accurate diagnosis of their survival time, something that can affect a dying patient’s decision on when (or if) to take his own life.

The fact is that most healthcare providers prefer to let patients spend their last months under hospice care, which is designed to ease suffering through medications and maintain quality of life for as long as possible. This is the route my parents took and, though terminally ill, Mom and Dad cherished the time they had left, and spent it with loved ones. But as much as I support the path that my parents chose, I also believe that every person has the right to take his or her own life in order to ease their pain and suffering from a terminal disease. It is my hope that our state legislature will eventually legalize physician-assisted suicide, and recognize our unalienable right to die.


facebook marketing