The Maynard family
29 years old, newly wed, trying for a family – it sounds like the start to a life that many aspire to have. However, Brittany Maynard elected to end that life on Nov. 1. after she was given six months to live. She moved to Oregon for one purpose: to have access to physician-assisted suicide, also known as euthanasia.
This decision has re-sparked the debate about whether or not euthanasia should be an option for terminal patients. And while arguments can be made for both sides, euthanasia is an act that violates the Hippocratic Oath and religious guidelines, disregards other medical options, underestimates damage done to relatives and risks corruption within hospitals.
First and foremost is religion. Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism and Buddhism all share fundamental values that deem life sacred. To the Catholic Church, euthanasia is murder. It is a rejection of the idea that human life is precious, and physician-assisted suicide has larger implications for those involved. Primarily, it shows that doctors are capable of murder. And even if someone is not religious, people share the ideology that human life should still be respected.
But for those that don’t view religion as a penultimate authority, there is another set of rules that are equally respected. The Hippocratic Oath outlines moral guidelines by which doctors conduct their practice. The best-known verse of this oath is “do no harm.” Voluntarily killing someone is harming them. And while some claim that doctors are doing harm by keeping people alive, this is false.
There are ways for patients feel minimal stress, die with dignity and avoid euthanasia – primary concerns of many people. For example, hospice care is a branch of nursing dedicated to ensuring quality of life before death. According to National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, more than 1.5 million people were treated in hospice last year.
Along with hospice, patients can stipulate in living wills the conditions of their death, such as no respirators, do not resuscitate, etc. A dying patient is not doomed to be a comatose person kept alive by machines – an image often used to scare people into choosing euthanasia. There are ways for patients to die at peace and on their own terms without resorting to euthanasia. And when doctors present this alternative, but don’t educate patients about other treatments, confusion ensues.
Most people are scared of death because it is an end. By presenting terminal patients with the option of taking their own life, doctors can incite distress and panic because there are only two options available: death now or later. This can result in poor decision-making and presents the possibility that patients are not able to make heavy decisions.
This is reflected in the case of Maynard herself. On Oct. 30, she announced that she postponed her original death date of Nov. 1 indefinitely so she could see how quickly her symptoms would worsen. Ultimately, she returned to her original date of Nov. 1, and has since passed away. This shows that people are unsure with these decisions and cannot always be trusted to make confident choices.
However, should patients elect to take their lives, they must realize that they are not the only ones impacted by this decision. Family can experience trauma when a loved one would rather die than stay alive for as long as possible. While this is a fairly selfish mindset, it is a valid concern that complicates the notion of patient autonomy.
The practice of euthanasia can also validate suicidal thoughts of people with psychological issues that can be helped. Granting assisted suicide to the terminally ill can increase suicides in what is known as suicide contagion. Due to its controversy, situations involving euthanasia – like Maynard’s – are likely to be publicized. According to suicide contagion, others will see an opportunity for their own deaths – escape from a life they believe to be doomed – because people support their thinking.
Finally, the cost difference between euthanasia and treating patients until they die is astronomical. According to the Patients Rights Council, drugs for euthanasia cost anywhere from $75 to $100. This is nothing compared to the thousands of dollars it costs to keep someone alive longer. This difference can influence facilities to push euthanasia onto patients, forcing them to make false decisions. While it is terrible, corruption is possible anywhere, and the sick are easily taken advantage of.
Ultimately, euthanasia cannot be legalized. It is not the only way for people to have control over their deaths or preserve the dignity of their lives. Death with dignity is already here, and it is a far better alternative to murder.