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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Ride or die states approve right to die measure

Recently in California, a bill allowing the legalization of physician assisted suicide reached the desk of California Governor Edmund “Jerry” Brown. He must now sign to either approve or veto this bill, causing controversy and public polarization over the issue. This issue, however, is not new.

There are five “other states that have passed physician-assisted suicide laws, in particular Oregon, where [physician assisted suicide] has been legal for more than 10 years,” wrote Connie Rosati, a UA professor of philosophy and ethics, in an email.

In 1997, the Supreme Court ruled that individual states were able to decide whether to legalize physician assisted suicide. Later that year, Oregon passed a law legalizing PAS.

Over the next 17 years, similar laws were passed in Washington, Montana, Vermont, and specifically in Bernalillo county in New Mexico. If the law is passed in California, it would make a huge impact because of its influence in the West Coast and the size of its population. There is even a movement in Bisbee, Ariz., to legalize physician assisted suicide.

Is this a path that Arizona should follow? Is it ethical to allow patients to choose to end their lives if they are terminally ill and suffering from pain? Moreover, is it fair to place the burden of this decision on doctors?

One organization of doctors, the American College of Physicians, believes that physician assisted suicide should not be legalized. They even sent a letter to Gov. Brown, urging him to veto the bill in the best interests of doctors and patients.

The letter discusses how it is the role of the physician to provide care and comfort to the patient, and that it considers physician assisted suicide little more than “abandonment of the dying patient.”

The ACP brings up palliative care, which is end of life care given to terminal patients to ease pain and make their last days more comfortable. Physicians are authorized, in such situations, to increase the dosage of painkillers to unsafe (safe if they are trying to die) levels, even if it shortens the patient’s life, if it means allowing the patient to be free of pain for a short while.

In the long run, though, how different is shortening a terminally ill patient’s life with pain medicine from physician assisted suicide? They both involve overdosing a terminally ill patient on painkillers when they are nearing the end of life. They both occur when a patient, in sound mind, makes the decision themselves. They both relieve the patient’s suffering and shorten their life–one is simply more rapid than the other.

However, one method is legal, while the other is illegal in all but four states.

The difference here is in the timeline in which deaths occur. It is still the patient’s decision. Another example of a legal action is a do not resuscitate order. This is when a patient has previously made the decision to refuse life-sustaining treatment if they were dying. Doctors are legally required to honor the patient’s wishes in this case and often have to watch a patient die.

Physician assisted suicide is so widely disputed because it is an active act that causes patients’ deaths as opposed to measures such as increasing palliative pain medicines or DNR orders which are more passive.

At the end of the day, all are the patient’s choice. If patients are mentally sound, fit the criteria and do not want to continue suffering and waiting for death, dying should be a decision they are allowed to make.

Follow Apoorva Bhaskara on Twitter.

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