Written By Samantha Gibbons, Age 16
“Only 4.9% of those who have been given assisted suicide drugs in Oregon were sent for a psychiatric evaluation beforehand and only 6% of psychiatrists in Oregon reported being very confident that they could adequately determine whether a psychiatric disorder was impairing the judgement of a patient requesting assisted suicide in a single evaluation” (Death with Dignity Act Annual Reports 7). The expression “euthanasia” refers to the deliberate termination of a person’s life. More frequently than not, the so-called “assisted suicuide” is at that individual’s solicitation. Euthanasia is performed typically with regards to terminal disease and chronic suffering. However, this hot topic has become distinctly widespread due to its relatively recent legalization on May 25, 1995 in Australia. Humanitarian reasons have led people to derive different conclusions concerning the performative action, which has caused the controversial dilemma to become political.
Within this political realm of euthansia, terminology can be thrown around loosely without knowing the factual definitions. As briefly touched upon, “euthanasia” refers to an occurrence where dynamic steps are taken to end an individual’s life, and the death is done by another person (i.e. a specialist). It can be performed by allowing a doctor to control a fatal portion of an appropriate medication to the patient on their request. Assisted suicide is the act of an indiviudal taking their own life, but is accommodated by another person. For example, instead of the specialist executing the fatal act, the individual does it themselves with the presence of another. Ultimately, the phrase “assisted dying” can allude to either euthanasia or assisted suicide.
The political euthanasia movement began in England 1935 when the Voluntary Euthanasia Legislation Society was originally founded by Charles Killick Millard. To publicize his own work to get his voice heard, he wrote to the British Medical Journal how the decision to die is not a medical decision, rather according to the individual who is amidst perishing. In hopes of grasping the attention of the British Medical Association, his writing initiated the controversial movement of assisted dying.
As time has progressed, citizens have formed their opinions regarding the situation, and the data reveals the popular thoughts: “Between 70 and 80 percent of people believe voluntary-assisted dying should be made legal'' (Fitzgerald 1). Surveys have concluded that the majority of the euthanasia supporters vary in age, gender, political allegiance, and religion. Assisted dying is growing in Europe, where countries are beginning to legalize euthansia. Those who support the idea are claiming that in a functioning society, citizens should have the right to choose whether they are ready to perish. If they choose to end their life, they say that they should be able to be helped if the circumstances will not allow them to do it on their own. On the other hand, opponents stand by the idea that life is given by God, thus God should be the one to take it back. Similarly some state that euthansia can allow for unintentional and nonconsensual death. With strong advocates on each side of the opposing argument, legal authorities have become involved, primarily in Europe.
Due to biological incompetencies, there are rare genetic diseases and conditions that cause people to pass away in a gradual, painful way. Brian Pretty, husband to Diane Pretty, reveals his personal journey of battling the desire for euthanasia for his wife. According to Pretty, “Motor neurone disease left her mind as sharp as ever, but it gradually destroyed her muscles, making it hard for her to communicate with her family. It left her in a wheelchair, catheterised and fed through a tube” (Pretty 2). Communication is an aspect that makes life worth living, since it is the basis of all human interaction. Because Dianne only had a couple of months left “she was fully aware of what the future held and decided to refuse artificial ventilation. Rather than the fear of dying by choking or suffocation, she wanted a doctor to help her die when she was no longer able to communicate with her family and friends” (Pretty 3). Brian knew that he had to do everything he could in order to fulfill his love one’s wishes before she passed, but unfortunately, there was nothing that he could do as he states, “Diane had to go through the one thing she had foreseen and was afraid of - and there was nothing I could do to help” (Pretty 5). To this day, Brian Pretty continues to fight for justice in honor of his wife.
In humanitarian terms, life and death is a heavily debated subject that has been studied. As of December 2020, euthansia is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Colombia, Luxembourg, Western Australia, Spain, and Canada. However, the act euthansia itself is illegal in most of the United States. Withstanding the general idea of euthansia, there are several legal acts that allow physician-assisted dying such as: the End of Life Option Act (eligible in California and Colorado), D.C. Death with Dignity Act (District of Columbia), Our Care, Our Choice Act (Hawaii), Death with Dignity Act (Maine, Oregon, and Washington), Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act (New Jersey), and Patient Choice and Control at the End of Life Act (Vermont). In retrospect, the vast majority of the United States has yet to legalize the act of euthanasia.
Within this widely disputed issue, there are a discrete amount of variables that have to be taken into consideration in respect to euthanasia. As time progresses, the controversy has become more apparent as the act is beginning to become legalized in more locations. No matter the position that one holds on this subject, a significant factor to remember is that it is a matter of life and death, not something to be tossed around carelessly.
Ashford, James. “Countries Where Euthanasia Is Legal.” The Week UK, The Week, 28 Aug. 2019, www.theweek.co.uk/102978/countries-where-euthanasia-is-legal.
“Death with Dignity Act Annual Reports.” Oregon Health Authority : Death with Dignity Act Annual Reports : Death with Dignity Act : State of Oregon, www.oregon.gov/oha/ph/providerpartnerresources/evaluationresearch/deathwithdignityact/pages/ar-index.aspx.
“Death with Dignity Acts - States That Allow Assisted Death.” Death With Dignity, 11 Dec. 2020, www.deathwithdignity.org/learn/death-with-dignity-acts/.
“Diane Pretty.” Dignity in Dying, 19 Dec. 2016, www.dignityindying.org.uk/story/diane-pretty/.
Fitzgerald, Ross. “Politicians and Clergy Are out of Step on Euthanasia.” The Sydney Morning Herald, The Sydney Morning Herald, 15 Apr. 2016, www.smh.com.au/opinion/politicians-and-clergy-are-out-of-step-on-euthanasia-20160415-go71pp.html.