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Dying might be a lesser evil

Making the ultimate choice, part 3

Sunday, March 24, 2013
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Editor’s note: On Feb. 24, The Gazette published an opinion piece by L.D. Davidson, explaining his reasons for being opposed to physician-assisted suicide. Members of the Union College class “Moral Problems: Death & Dying” discussed the piece. This is one of three responses.

Over the past three months we have spent time researching, discussing and debating what a good death is vs. a bad one, using case studies, laws, books and first hand accounts of the effects of the Oregon Death With Dignity Act, reviewing, among other things, the film “How to Die in Oregon.”

We thank L.D. Davidson for offering some compelling arguments against physician-assisted suicide, including the notion that doctors should be healers, not killers; that there are more important things for a legislature to discuss; that a patient is susceptible to depression; and, finally, that hospice is a better option.

A form of healing

While all of these are convincing points, we believe that physician aid in dying is a form of healing.

As practiced in Oregon and Washington, the states in which it is currently legal, physician aid in dying is only permissible for patients who are diagnosed with a terminal illness (with six months or less to live), who submit two verbal requests 15 days apart, and who submit a written request with the signatures of two witnesses. Another physician must then approve requests, and a psychiatrist must examine the patient to rule out depression.

Physical pain often accompanies terminal illness and there is often a point at which no dosage of painkillers can numb the pain or relieve suffering. In these cases, relief from pain and suffering is a greater good for the patient and loss of life becomes the lesser evil. At this point, doctors may prescribe a lethal drug for the patient because they are healers acting for a patient who chooses the lesser evil.

Lastly, although the right to life is important, so, too, are autonomy and the pursuit of happiness. Throughout our lives we make every decision for ourselves, so why should that change when it is time to face death? If patients are ready and willing to face death with both arms outstretched, they should certainly have the right to do so.

Keeping the pledge

Who are we, as a society, to force our views upon a person and deny them their basic right to liberty? In our Pledge of Allegiance, we reiterate the fact that there is “liberty and justice for all” every day. By keeping physicians’ aid in dying illegal, we turn our backs on that pledge.

— Rajpreet Dhaliwal, Jessica Malinconico, Adam Rosenthal and Jen Ventrella

 
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