A Right to Die
The California legislature recently passed a controversial bill, which they are calling the “End of Life Option Act”. If signed by the Governor, it will go into effect this January. The bill states that it would allow adults suffering from terminal illness that meet “certain conditions” to request and be administered a dosage of life-ending drugs. There would need to be documentation of both oral and written requests. As an accompaniment, it adds that doctors, workers, etc. will not be treated as criminals or subjected to disciplinary action as a result of the lawful practice of this procedure. Euthanasia Pro Con does a very good job of bringing together some of the various arguments for and against the so-called “right-to-die” laws.
For those patients in tremendous suffering, such as Brittany Maynard, who sparked the current debate by choosing to move from California to Oregon (which has right-to-die laws) to end her life after being diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer, this End of Life Option Act offers a way out. Patients and their supporters argue that in some situations we are really prolonging death instead of life. This causes unnecessary suffering and indignity – which they argue does more harm than good. The morality of suffering aside, some also think that the option to end your life comes under the heading of a right to bodily integrity, which has been demonstrated and upheld in a number of laws regarding marriage, contraception, and the refusal of treatment (i.e. living wills).
Many of the most vocal opponents are religious leaders, especially the Catholic Church. While they agree with the concept of refusing pointless treatment at the end of life, they believe there is no life not worth living, because life is a holy gift that we have no right to destroy. This is a similar view to why suicide is considered a sin. From a more universal standpoint, opponents fear the “slippery slope” phenomenon, worrying that by legalizing this, the door would be opened to a whole host of other, less savory practices. These fears make many uncomfortable with the idea.
Additionally, worries concerning potential abuse of the system have arisen. For instance, where an unwanted or disabled person’s family might forge paperwork, or a befuddled Alzheimer’s patient might be coerced into signing an agreement with no real knowledge of the situation. Supporters counter this point by saying that abuse will happen whether physician-assisted suicide is illegal or not, and legalizing/regulating it might actually prevent abuse as a whole.
Is there a right to die, just like there’s a right to live? Should California, or any other state for that matter, pass laws allowing physician-assisted suicide? Should we fear the “slippery slope” of legalized murder?