Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Another hopeful win for medical privacy and personal liberty

The state of Washington has voted for a ballot measure that supports doctor-assisted suicide. Here is the description of the measure, according to the CNN link on it.

"This measure would allow terminally ill, competent, adult residents of the state to request and self-administer lethal medication prescribed by a physician. The person requesting to end his or her life must be medically predicted to have six months or less to live."

A similar law has been on the books in Oregon for some time (Oregon's "Death With Dignity Act"). I refered to it on two papers I wrote in college on physician-assisted suicide. I got A's on those papers.

My main worry with these laws is making sure the lines are stayed within. They need to verify that the patient is competent and willing - as opposed to pressured by family or others with greedy motives. In my readings of critiques, an author said that it was "an illusion of control" that these guidelines could be followed. Could that be true? It would mean patients are pressured into choosing suicide, or patients who are less severe than "terminal, six months" might be given the go-ahead. A breach. Not good.

But assuming the guidelines can be followed with reasonably verifiable and high-enough rates of accuracy (and risk of error is ALWAYS there, ask any scientist), then I feel it's acceptable. I am sensitive to qualms of others though. On an episode of House, House said there's "no such thing" as death with dignity: "You can live with dignity, you can't die with it". Is that true? It's easy to say "no" when the comparison is stark: endless living pain/shitting your pants versus quick peaceful death in a time of one's choosing. But I understand not all conditions are that clear cut.

What's very troublesome, and perhaps unfair, is that I think family members can be blamed for a medically ill loved one's suicidal desire. It's like the family's "not trying hard enough" to make the person want to live. Make the person want to live? That's a dubious concept for a number of reasons.

I wonder how often family members are treated as murderers for simply letting their loved one take their own life?

I guess there's some merit to these suspicions. Possibly if family members don't try hard enough, their sick loved one feels worse than is expected by the disease alone. But first off, onlookers aren't necessarilly qualified too know what defines the true extent of "trying hard enough", and even if they can make some guess, do they have claim to blame them for their loved one's suicide (as opposed to homicide).

We're all expected to "save" people from committing suicide. I'm willing to concede that this motive is at least justified to some extent. The hope of right-to-die advocates is that a line can be drawn for those who are terminally ill, with no cure or relief to look forword to, and who are of sound enough mind to make their own decision, AND who are verified (by independent interviewers) to be sufficiently uninfluenced by others in making their choice for ending their life. That's 4 prerequisites (count 'em). It sounds good to me, and I hope that these rules can be properly followed.

If the freedom to choose one's death can be allowed at all, this would be a remarkable enlightenment and muturity of the human conscience of our society, in terms of allowing individuals freedom to choose their destinities, free from the complaints of others, family included. If such freedom for the individual can be allowed, I feel an extra surge of hope for our relationship with our society.

No comments: