By Sydney Chun
California governor, Jerry Brown, has signed a bill legalizing physician-assisted suicide, despite opposition from county coroners, religious organizations, and disability rights groups.
The End of Life Option Act allows terminally ill adults to request that a physician give them a lethal dose of drugs which they will use to end their life. The act requires two different doctors to verify that a patient has six months or less to live, that the patient is able to swallow the medication by himself, and he has the mental capability to make coherent medical decisions.
This right-to-die bill is ethically justifiable because a person with a terminal illness should be able to decide to end her suffering. It is the compassionate thing to do. Living a shorter yet less painful life is better than living a longer yet extremely painful life. Although doctors generally try to prolong and preserve a person’s life, they are supposed to alleviate the suffering and pain of their patients in any case. Physician-assisted death is a method of painlessly relieving a patient’s chronic suffering. The bill respects people’s autonomy by allowing competent patients to end their lives.
The right-to-die bill faced intense opposition from Californians Against Assisted Suicide, a coalition which includes religious groups and disability rights advocates. Religious sects such as the Catholic Church have argued that suicide of any kind is deliberately sinful. The disability groups were concerned that the disabled could be pressured into taking the medication in order to avoid their costly care and medical bills. Also, greedy heirs might coerce a family member to end his life early in order to gain inheritance prematurely.
The cost of prolonged treatment would be astronomical in comparison to the price of end-of-life drugs. Poor and underinsured people want access to better health care and the end-of-life medication may become the cheapest and easiest way to deal with complex terminal situations. However, there are many safeguards placed on the bill, including a sunset clause that will terminate the law in a decade and force it to be reapproved. In addition, patients must request the medication three times and sign a form two days before ending their lives. Although opposing parties are concerned that patients could be coerced, the law requires signed consent and a private consultation. California has modeled its law after Oregon’s, which in the 17 years the since the law was passed, has seen 1,173 prescriptions written and not one case of coercion.
The death with dignity bill does not mean that all terminally ill patients will choose to end their lives; the bill merely gives them the choice. Dying people deserve the right to choose between a longer life of pain and treatment or an end to suffering. It should not be a crime for a person to end her own life. As the name states, it is an attempt to allow patients to end their lives with dignity.
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