The Right to Die, and Doctor-Assisted Suicide

The Right to Die, and Doctor-Assisted Suicide: The Mission of Late Dr. Jack Kevorkian Imagine a patient in a hospital suffering from the AIDS disease. And since his diagnosis he has suffered from two bouts of pneumonia, chronic, severe sinus and skin infections, severe seizures, and extreme fatigue. Seventy percent of his vision is already lost, and the disease has gone terminal. He has requested that his doctor prescribe him medicine that would kill him thus ending his suffering. This is exactly what Dr.
Jack Kevorkian has been fighting for his entire life. To shed positive light upon the controversial subject of Physician-Assisted Suicide. A little back story on Dr. Jack Kevorkian. Kevorkian was the son of Armenian refugees who came to America to escape the Turkish genocide. His early talents ranged from hand-made woodwork, linguistics, to science experiments conducted in his basement. He then became a pathologist, devoting his life to the unusual task of showing the positives and social benefits from death. He did not just take on the medical establishment and the law; throughout his life he dared to challenge a taboo as old as human civilization – the taboo against death” (Nicol, Wylie 2) Kevorkian was very outspoken and intensely committed to the causes that he believed in. He also lacked the ability to lie, so much, that its said that whenever he played poker with his friends, that he never bluffed, and if he bet everyone else folded. Kevorkian built a machine where patients, through self implanted pumps, have the ability to self-control the does of pain medication that they receive.
And now the amount of doctors who quietly comply with a patient’s request for a lethal does of medication is slowly rising up. Kevorkian made headlines by evading countless prosecutions, but then a case came up that no one could ignore, a case where a man so deteriorated due to his illness, that he could not operate the machine properly requiring Kevorkian to personally inject the lethal dose of medication himself. This man’s name is Tom Youk and his case made the biggest impact on Kevorkian’s life. Youk was diagnosed with ALS, a neuromuscular disorder caused by the death of the motor nerve cells that control voluntary muscle movement.

Youk’s condition got worse and worse, making him unable to move his arms and legs, extreme difficulty in speaking, and having no control of his jaw and tongue causing Youk to choke on his own spit. Every doctor he would visit would just prescribe him a different ineffective pain medication that would do no benefit to his condition. Youk had asked several doctors to help him commit suicide but each one would not help him with his request. Then his family contacted Kevorkian, and after very careful research on Youk’s medical records, Kevorkian obliged to go through with his treatment. Kevorkian would later say, ‘He just was terrified of choking to death, and he must have felt that he was on the verge of it. And I couldn’t have him suffer in that kind of frame of mind because if a man is terrified, it’s up to me to dispel that terror. ‘ ” (Nicol, Wylie 9) Through multiple times, Kevorkian made sure that the patient had control over their death, for example, he would hook up a sedative that would go through a patient’s IV, stopping the patient’s heart if that patient would push a button.
Youk was different, because he did not have the ability to physically activate a switch that would release a sedative that would kill him so he requested that Kevorkian would personally give the injection himself. Kevorkian’s thought on this was that he would make a statement to the public after assisting Youk, win the court case, and then hopefully this would relieve the fear doctors had in doing the things that he did. Kevorkian recorded the process on tape, read a consent form to Youk, and the next following day, upon Youk’s request, injected the lethal sedative into Youk’s IV.
After the video being released to the public huge debates both medically and legally broke out. Three days later the state of Michigan charged Kevorkian for first-degree murder. When interviewed for ABC’s 60 Minutes Kevorkian was portrayed as “Dr. Death” a man who caused another man to die and did not even seemed bother by it. After several trials, Jack Kevorkian was sentenced to 25 years in a maximum-security penitentiary. His health began to fail when in prison. He broke two ribs after falling in the recreation yard.
He suffered from a double hernia, suffered from high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, adrenal insufficiency, chronic pulmonary obstruction disease, cataracts, and Hepatitis C. He was suffering the same fate as Tom Youk only this time he had no one to relieve his suffering. By 1999 Dr. Kevorkian became the poster boy for assisted suicide. Physician-Assisted suicide was made legal in the state of Oregon, and 86 percent of the country supported physician-assisted suicide to be made legal nationwide.
A lot of people do not know the difference between euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. “If a third party performs the last act that intentionally causes a patient’s death, euthanasia has occurred… On the other hand, if the person who dies performs the last act, assisted suicide has taken place. ” (Hamlon, Marker) There are always two sides to every argument. One who supports a cause and another that opposes the cause. A large group of people are giving their support in trying to legalize physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia nationally.
Richard Ikeda, a doctor who cares for low-income elderly patients, has stated, “When cure is no longer possible, the majority of Californians, and the majority of California physicians, want dying patients to have the right to make end-of-life choices in accord with their own values and beliefs… This week [October 27, 2007] completed ten years’ experience with Oregon’s death with dignity laws, and all studies show end-of-life care has improved for all Oregonians. ” (31) More and more physicians are trying to legalize physician-assisted suicide nationally to benefit for their suffering patients.
An example of where physician-assisted suicide would benefit a patient would be Percy Bridgman. Bridgman was a Nobel-Prize winning physicist suffering from terminal cancer at the age of seventy nine. He was wracked with pain and drained of hope that he mustered up the courage to pull the trigger of a gun ending his own life forcing others to the agony of discovering his bloody and mangled body. Another example would be James Poe, who is a sixty-nine year old man suffering from emphysema which suffocates him time to time as well as heart failure due to his pulmonary disease.
He must be hooked up to an oxygen tank at all times and needs to take morphine regularly to calm his anxiety due to his suffocation. He is mentally competent and has requested to commit suicide by taking physician-prescribed pills. There are countless more cases where patients would have benefited from physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia. Thomas A. Bowden, a legal analyst at the Ayn Rand Institute, states that individuals actually have the legal right to choose death. What lawmakers must grasp is that there is no rational basis upon which the government can properly prevent any individual from choosing to end his own life. When religious conservatives enact laws to enforce the idea that their God abhors suicide, they threaten the central principle on which America was founded on” (Bowden 36) The Declaration of Independence states that each individual person exists as an end for himself. This means that no one can interfere with this person’s right to live or not and that no one may obstruct this person’s sense of his own happiness.
If happiness were to be blocked by a dreaded disease though, and the end result is a very slow and painful death, then why try to obstruct a person’s decision to end their suffering? Society should not have to give anyone the permission to end his or her life, it is their choosing, their right. So a doctor willing to assist a completely mentally sane person to end his or her own life to end at heir suffering due to an illness that is untreatable and non-curable then that doctor should also have the right to do their bidding.
Religious conservatives also have no legal right to force their beliefs upon a person if that person wants to end their life to end their suffering. Speaking of religion on the issue, actual ministers and religious people have begin to find loop holes in the text and started to try and prove that physician-assisted suicide was actually very moral. Alvaro Vargas Llosa, senior and director of the Center of Global Prosperity at the Independent Institute, has stated that the religious argument against euthanasia contradicts a Judeo-Christian tradition. The religious argument against euthanasia-that it violates the sanctity of life-contradicts the single most powerful premise of the Judeo-Christian tradition: that God gives every person free will. ” (Llosa 69) It basically undermines the belief that the spirit outlives the body. These conservatives are putting mercy on the useless body rather than the everlasting soul that is suffering. A few other contradictions: Jews perishing at Masada rather than being enslaved or Christians martyring themselves rather than betray God by bowing to a Roman deity.
The death of a terminally ill patient can lift off the pain and the suffering of not only the patient, but the patient’s family as well. No more do they have to here their wails of pain or seeing them suffer before their eyes, just the simple fact that they know that their loved one is at peace can bring happiness through the whole family. By making a life and death situation, this person is making a choice to help someone left behind. And helping another brings a higher value to a person’s own existence. As Minister Kenneth W. Phifer put it, “To choose death sooner rather than later can be an act of high moral stature.
Mere existence is not an absolute value. ” (71) Religious conservatives may have their morals and their excuses as to why physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia may seem sinful within their eyes but these statements listed above has contradicted and proven that a person can still have strong religious beliefs, but still can take consider that physician-assisted suicide is still an acceptable way to relieve themselves of suffering a long awaited and painful death even from their own god’s eyes. Today, death is more of an urgent issue due to an increase in medical knowledge and technology.
Not all pain can be managed though. No one should have the right to force someone to face grievous pain because they think it is more moral. No one should deny anyone the right to end their own life to end their suffering because it does not seem right in their eyes. “Furthermore, doctors cannot always be healers. Each of us will come to a point in life when no medical treatment will help us, save perhaps to relieve our pain. At that point, when our condition is terminal, what we need more than anything else is intelligent compassion. (Phifer 77) Sometimes what terminal patients need is not medication to ease their physical pain, but sometimes true compassion and knowing of what they are going through. Medication for the soul to soothe their emotional pain, to help them ease into death peacefully. A lot of doctors do this method called the “double effect” and religious communities support this. What the “double effect” is, is that it is a principle where doctors prescribe medication for pain even though they know that the level of medication will kill the patient. Even Pope John Paul II approves of the “double effect”. It is licit to relieve pain by narcotics, even when the result decreased consciousness and a shortening of life. ” (Pope John Paul II, The Gospel of Life). A lot of people argue that if physician-assisted suicide were to be made legal, that there would be an increase in suicides among disadvantaged individuals. Well according to the University of Utah, “legalizing physician-assisted suicide in Oregon and the Netherlands did not result in a disproportionate number of deaths among the elderly, poor, women, minorities, uninsured, minors, chronically ill, less educated or psychiatric patients. (130) The studies showed that within the ten study groups, only the group with AIDS infected people opted for the use of physician-assisted suicide. “Whereas modern medicine has brought great benefits to humanity, it cannot entirely solve the pain and distress of the dying process. Each person deals with death in their individual way. Which way is determined by their health, their ethics, and personal living conditions. ” (Humphry) It just boils down to how the individual reacts to their condition. If a atient is in such unbearable pain and suffering that they want someone to end their life peacefully to relieve their pain, then so be it. No one should have to force their opinion as fact and not allow the patient to do so because of the doctor’s or family’s belief. It all depends on what that one individual wants. It is their life, let them be in control of it. With every group that is for a cause, there is always a group against the cause as well. And when it comes to euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, things do not change.
With a large support group behind these causes comes a large anti-group too. Trudy Chun and Marian Wallace are writers for Concerned Women for America, a conservative, pro-family, pro-life organization. “The very laws once deigned to protect a person’s inalienable right to life now permit the elimination of those deemed unworthy to live. And in the name of compassion, doctors trained to heal and to prolong life are shortening and even snuffing it out altogether. ” (Chun, Wallace 41) Doctors swore an oath to keep a patient alive as much and as long as possible no matter what.
Killing a patient on purpose goes against everything a doctor stands for, everything a doctor was trained to do. This oath is called the “Hippocratic Oath” and within this oath a physician must state, “I will give no deadly medicine, even when asked. ” Physicians are healers and the inability of physicians of preventing death does not mean a physician has the right to cause death. Diane Coleman, and executive director of progress Center for Independent Living, which is a nonprofit nonresidential service and advocacy center operated by and for people with disabilities.
Coleman was born with a neuromuscular disability since birth, and was given a life expectancy of twelve years. When she outlived this her diagnosis and expectancy changed as well. Within the next few years she began to develop respiratory problems and began to use a breathing machine at night. “I had two other friends, one in her 20’s and one in her 50’s, who needed the same thing. But their doctors discouraged them from it, reinforcing their fears, and either didn’t know or didn’t disclose what the medical journals said would happen as a result.
At an early age they each went into respiratory distress, and died within a month from infections. ” (Coleman 190) Doctors today are pushing ways in which to end patients lives shorter rather than prolonging their life and treating their problems to the fullest. Seventy percent of Kevorkian’s “terminally ill” patients are said to have not even be terminally ill in the first place, meaning that there was still a chance in saving these individuals lives and if physicians would be allowed to kill their patients on their patients will then a treatment that could actually work may never be found.
Ira Byock, director and professor of palliative care at Dartmouth Medical School, states that palliative care should be considered instead of assisted suicide. “Mortality teaches us a lot about life, if we let it. One thing it teaches is that human life in inherently spiritual, whether or not a person has a religion” (Byock 227) What hospice is, is that it is an end-of-life option. It is meant to bring comfort, dignity, and calmness in dealing with a terminally ill patient.
It brings a sense of compassion and respect for the dignity of each individual patient on how he or she deals and encounters death. Instead of prematurely ending another person’s life instantaneously, It makes sure the patient lives life to the very last comfortably and lovingly. It gives the patient the peace of mind that he or she has been made to feel as comfortable as possible and peace of mind to their loved ones by knowing that such care is taking place. As with the pro side of physician-assisted suicide, religion plays a huge part in the anti portion. The Christian understanding of humanity insists that we are not autonomous creatures that have the right to determine when we shall live and when we shall die” (Mohler 92) Christian’s believe that it is God’s duty to determine when a body lives and when a body dies and that if the body were to be slain prematurely at the hand of another person intentionally then that soul would be punished. Religion is an extremely important variable when it comes to suicide since suicide is seen to be sinful. Christians believe that life has meaning.
That life is not just a course, but a gift. Life is all about experiences and experiences includes good things, happiness, compassion, love, but also experiencing “the bad too” such as pain, and suffering. In all in all religion is a very important factor since most citizens in America are Christians and with the campaign to legalize euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide continues, these supporters must convince these religious conservatives in order to legalize euthanasia and physician-assisted nationally.
Again, with every big controversial topic, there will always be a pro side and an anti side. Each group will have their own very good points being made. But the key idea of physician-assisted suicide would not have been made as popular as it is today without the compassionate, influential, and controversial ideas of Dr. Jack Kevorkian. His compassion for seeking out and showing the public the truth of physician-assisted suicide and the goodness it entails is enticing. The amount of court cases he had dodged and accusations he got away from is still remarkable to this day.
Though he was known as “Dr. Death” as portrayed by the media, people who really knew Kevorkian knew that he was a very humble, kind, and passionate old man just trying to help the unfortunate. And even though he has since passed, there are still plenty, upon plenty of people out there to make it their life’s work to make sure that Kevorkian’s vision of a nation that accepts physician-assisted suicide as a legal and moral practice to do on suffering terminal patients comes true.

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