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.
We would like to thank L.D. Davidson for his informative yet provocative column on physician aid in dying. During the winter term 2013 at Union College, we have taken a course on death and dying, where we had the opportunity to break into groups and debate the pros and cons of physician aid in dying.
We also spent a great deal of time throughout the course debating what was a good death and what was a bad death. Collectively, students agreed that a good death was peaceful, at the time of old age, and with autonomy. A bad death was said to be unexpected, sudden and painful. Within our group of three students, we respect Davidson’s reasons for arguing against physician aid in dying, however, we disagree.
Davidson argues that physicians should be healers, not killers; however, when a patient is diagnosed with a terminal illness, they have around six months or less to live. During this time period, they are presented with different options in dealing with their prognosis. Hospice, or palliative care, is sometimes the best option for patients, but it is not always the best option for patients for whom continuing life offers nothing but pain and suffering.
The ultimate choice
Physician aid in dying offers these patients the option of choosing when they no longer wish to suffer in pain. Unfortunately, physician aid in dying is sometimes referred to as “physician-assisted suicide,” which gives the option of dying with dignity a negative stigma.
Arguing, as Davidson does, that suicide does not need doctors, opens the door to messier situations for patients and their families. Moreover, if individuals can kill themselves on their own without a doctor’s prescription and assistance, then why should physician aid in dying create such controversy?
Although Mr. Davidson believes that patients choose physician aid in dying primarily because they are depressed, in those states where it is legal, patients are thoroughly screened to make sure depression is not a factor in their choice. It is true that giving patients the choice of physician assistance to end their life and suffering flies in the face of tradition, yet medical advancement and social evolution offers new opportunities to better people’s lives and the way they die.
We believe physician aid in dying is a beneficial way for terminal patients to end their lives without pain and suffering, with their dignity intact, and at their own hand.
Davidson’s argument about legislatures having more important topics to discuss seems misplaced because our Constitution states that governments exist to protect people’s rights, including their right to pursue happiness.
Legalizing physician aid in dying does not mean everyone has to choose it, but it should be an option for those who wish to die comfortably and with dignity. If an individual has the right to live as they wish, they should also have the right to die as they wish.
— Samantha Adamson, Jillian DeBono and Elizabeth Murad