On Tuesday, March 24, an elderly Oregon woman, acting with the aid of a doctor, dosed herself with potent chemicals and died. The woman had lived with breast cancer for more than 20 years. By all accounts her final hours were private and peaceful, as she became one of the first people in American history to end her life lawfully with the aid of a physician (Oregonian A1). She was able to end her life peacefully due to controversial legislation passed in her state. The Death with Dignity Act was passed by the state of Oregon in 1994. It allows physicians to prescribe a lethal dose of medication so that a terminally ill patient can end his or her life. The requirements set forth by the state statute are as follows: “An adult who is capable, is a resident of Oregon, and has been determined by the attending physician and consulting physician to be suffering from a terminal disease, and who has voluntarily expressed his or her wish to die, may make a written request for medication for the purpose of ending his or her life in a humane and dignified manner” (Death with Dignity Act 569.32)
Therefore, it is of great importance that the Death with Dignity Act remains law. It sets a president for the United States. If the act continues as enacted law then all other states can pass similar legislation that will end the suffering of terminally ill patients. All terminally ill patients should have this right. Moreover, the physician assisted suicide law stood up to its opposition. This law took many years and withstood tremendous opposition in order to be passed. In October of 1997 The United States Supreme Court denied a hearing brought forth by opponents of the law. This allowed physician assisted suicide to go into effect. The State of Oregon has since won every opposing court case up to the federal level. Recently the former attorney general John Croft opposed the act in 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Ashcroft issued a directive that physicians could not prescribe federally controlled substances for life terminating purposes. Ashcroft based his argument on the regulation in the federal Controlled Substances Act that says drugs must be prescribed for a ligament medical purpose (23).
Moreover, Ashcroft is just protesting for the conservatives that he is employed by and has no real constitutional evidence and to why the Death with Dignity should not continue to be law. Ashcroft’s directive was overruled by District Judge Robert E. Jones. In his dissent, he stated, “It does not violate the Controlled Substances Act’s nonpreemption provision. It neither exceeds the Attorney General’s statutory authority under the Controlled Substances Act” (The Federal Register 12). Therefore, this action would be detrimental to all those who do not choose to wait for death. In November of 2004 Ashcroft appealed to the Supreme Court and they will hear the case later this year. It is likely the Supreme Court will interpret the regulations in accordance with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals but if it fails to do so Oregon will be forced to repeal the statute. This law has brought peace to 171 terminally ill and suffering individuals in a very painless and humane manner. Only 3 of the 43 patients experienced complications in 2003. The only complications reported in these 3 cases were vomiting.
One-half of all patients became unconscious within four minutes of ingesting the lethal medication and all died within 20 minutes. The range of time from ingestion to death was five minutes to 48 hours (Sixth Annual Report T3.9). Physician assisted suicide accomplishes much more than ending suffering before death. The right is of the individual and should be respected by our government. It is a fundamental freedom that we all should have. It allows a person to die with dignity and prevents the illness from killing them before they die. “The Death with Dignity Act is very similar to other forms of euthanasia that are legal in all states. There is little disagreement between ending life support for a person who has certainly suffered brain damage and allowing one who is suffering to do the same.”(Humphrey 569.12) Therefore, no one should oppose this law because it is constitutional just like the other forms of euthanasia. The terminally ill are not usually themselves they are what the illness turns them into whether it is mentally altering or physically disabling they are not able to enjoy life. Assisted suicide also gives friends and family members the relief of not having to experience the suffering of their loved ones.
They also get the time they need to say their final goodbyes. Economically physician assisted suicide not only benefits the ailing patient. Health care costs would be significantly reduced and lower insurance premiums would be instituted. Health care workers would be more available to cure non terminal patients and those needing organ donations will have a much greater probability of receiving then in time to save their lives. Moreover, there are many advantages in allowing Death with Dignity but there are those who oppose the act. The opposition to physician assisted suicide argues that mistakes happen. “A sixty six year old woman was suffering from breast cancer and in the early stages of applying for physician assisted suicide when she went into remission” (Humphrey 62). Then is comes to life we, as a society do not comprise sympathy for those who commit murder. In the instance that a doctor misdiagnoses a form of cancer or other aliment that may or may not be terminal and the patient is assisted in his or her suicide then that doctor would have legally committed manslaughter. It is likely the doctor would only be held accountable for his malpractice. Another problem that arises is illegal behavior. People break laws all too often and doctors are people.
Under the Oregon statute the physician and pharmacist must report the assisted suicide to a government agency but it is the doctor and a consulting doctor who diagnose, decide if mental competence must be evaluated, and who confirm residency. Under this statute a physician has enough power to get away with murder. It also weighs on the patient who in pain wants to die and also wants to avoid pain to survive. According to Quill, the option given to the terminally ill is not without consequence the illness they suffer from may prevent them from pursuing alternative measures or risky surgeries in an attempt to sustain their life (97). Insurance companies could also unethically assist in the choice of a patient to terminate their life by not covering new medical technology.
Therefore, the opposition out weighs the evidence in favor and the Death with Dignity Act should be improved. The two sides of physician assisted suicide extend beyond one another, it is a perfect design for a flawless world but our world is exceedingly flawed. Although the law sets out to relieve is has the ability to hurt. If all doctors could be trusted, corporations did not demonstrate their greed, insurance companies had never acted in an inhumane way, and malpractice suits were not on the docket of every court it is unlikely that physician assisted suicide would ever be opposed. Our laws attempt to protect us from all these imperfections and when it comes to Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act the law fails to protect us. The consequences outweigh the resolution.
Ashcroft, John. The Federal Register, (2001):56607-56608. Death with Dignity Act of 1994. Pub. 1995 c.3 2.01; 1999 c.423 2. Humphrey, Derek. Dying With Dignity: Understanding Euthanasia. New York: Carol Publishing Corp., 1992. Jeffery, Alvin P. “A perfect suicide” The Oregonian 24 Mar. 1997:A1 Quill, Timothy. Death and Dignity: Making Choices and Taking Charge. New York: Norton and Company Inc., 1993. Sixth Annual Report. Oregon: Department of Human Services, 2004.