In the midst of a presidential election, it’s easy to forget that there are more issues being voted on than who gets to be our president. One could be forgiven, then, for missing the fact that doctor-assisted suicide was on the ballot. Time reports that, on Nov. 8, Colorado became the sixth state to legalize the ending of a person’s life if they suffer from a terminal illness.
What could this mean for society? Advocates, such as the activist group Death with Dignity National Center, argue that people should not have to suffer needlessly near the end of their life. Helping a terminally ill person to end it all is the humane thing to do, they say, and they work toward the goal of changing laws.
Not everyone agrees, however. Last year, California was thwarted in its efforts to pass right-to-die legislature by religious opposition (before later succeeding). And disability advocate groups fear the law could put the disabled in harm’s way.
The disability rights group Not Dead Yet opposes assisted suicide on the grounds that they could be used to discriminate against the elderly, sick and disabled. The group has criticized a recent right-to-die law passed in Washington, D.C. that they say does not do enough to protect patient’s rights. Certain vulnerable groups of people could be coerced into premature death by doctors or family members, the story goes.
As for me, I support the right to die, and I believe a humane society must as well. The system is open to abuse and mistakes, which we must work to prevent, but that is no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. And I take it a step further than many, in that I think that certain non-terminal conditions are bad enough to justify assisted death as well.
I am forced to think of the case of Ramon Sampedro, the Spaniard who became a quadriplegic in a diving accident and sought to end his life. He fought the Spanish government for decades for the right to die before finally drinking cyanide with a straw (with the assistance of an unknown other).
I have always thought this was very cruel and unfair. Why should someone be forced to choose between a painful death and a life they cannot accept? I would never dream of telling a paralyzed or terminally ill person that their life cannot be fulfilling and that they cannot be valuable as a person. But I think that in certain cases it is best for us to be the captains of our own destinies.
I would not expect the practice of doctor-assisted suicide to be legalized in Tennessee anytime soon. In 2015, a judge ruled against the case of a Tennessean man, John Jay Hooker, who suffered from cancer and had a doctor willing to help him end his life.
And of the states that have right-to-die laws, not one of them is in the South. But according to a 2015 report by Gallup, 68 percent of Americans are in favor doctor-assisted suicide at the patient’s request in cases where the patient is in severe pain caused by a disease that cannot be cured.
I look forward to the day when we embrace the right to a painless death. We fear death too much, and agony is a big part of that fear. I believe that when I am dying sometime in the future, our nation will be ready to give me a peaceful end.