Going through the mail each day, it never ceases to amaze me about the number of requests I receive from organizations I have never heard of asking for financial support. I do realize that organizations that I do contribute to sell mailing lists, and this is what leads to the abundance of requests that I find in the mailbox in the course of a week. I have been asked to help alley cats survive, donkeys to be cared for, big cats to not be forgotten, elephants to be protected, etc. etc. etc. The other day I did receive an unsolicited request from, Compassion & Choices. As I read the information that accompanied the request for support, I became interested in the issue that they were championing. They cited a U.S. Supreme Court Case, Gonzales v. Oregon (2006). The Court ruled by a 6-3 vote, that federal statutory authority cannot preempt a state’s medical practice law which allowed for physician-assisted suicide. The Oregon Death With Dignity Act that the citizens of Oregon passed back in 1994, permitted licensed physicians to dispense or prescribe a lethal does of drugs to patients with incurable and irreversible diseases in situations in which death was imminent within six months. The law also stated that the physician could not administer the drugs. The Attorney General of the United States argued that the Oregon law violated the Controlled Substances Act (1970). Simply, the Court majority argued that the federal government did not have the authority to intervene in the medical practices of the state and upheld the Oregon law.
Subsequently, I learned that in addition to Oregon, there are eight other states and the District of Columbia that give individuals the right to physician-assisted suicide and include the states of Washington, Hawaii, Maine, California, New Jersey and Vermont. It is allowed in Montana by action of the state court.
Obviously, giving individuals the right to request assistance of a physician to end their life would be viewed by a significant number of people as unconscionable and wrong. For a variety of reasons, it would be argued that this is not a right to be given to an individual. For religious and/or moral reasons such a decision is not within the purview of a person. It is interesting to note that language in the Oregon law includes the provision that the action must be done voluntarily by the person. Conversely, to those who would argue that only God can decide the end of life, is there an argument for the right to die with dignity? Once a person approaches the end of life due to an incurable disease or other physical condition, is it wrong for them to make a voluntary decision to terminate their time on earth in a dignified manner. Having visited friends and relatives in nursing homes where so many are merely existing, what is to be gained by prolonging a life absent of any quality or sustainability. Many are dependent on others for their very existence and assistance with the basics of human life and survival. They are unable to do anything for themselves and linger in a state of being, but not living. Is this right?
I recall standing beside my mother’s hospital bed with my brother and my mother’s sister, waiting for her to leave this earth. She had suffered an unrelenting stroke and we were assured by her physician that she would never regain consciousness. For us, it was the humane decision to make to allow her to die rather than for her to be kept alive by modern medicine and technology. Is allowing someone to request the assistance of a physician to die any different than the decision we made? We could be chastised by some who would argue that miracles do happen, and my mother might have consciously rebounded. Yes, that is always a possibility, but an unlikely probability.
Each of us will have to come to our own decision as to how we will deal with the decision when we are still able to make the decision. Will you hang on to the belief that it is not your decision to make and the end will be determined by a higher being? Whatever decision that you decide to make, it is imperative that you let those who might be responsible when your life comes to that time, what your desires are and how you want them to be followed. The older I get, the more I realize that we are mortal beings and cannot cling to immortality. Life does come to an end. I certainly do not mean to morbid, just practical and realistic. I think I will make a contribution to Compassion & Choices—the organization that was the impetus for this discussion!