By Courtney Gast
To have control of their own life, to die on their own terms and to pass in the most humane way possible are the only wishes that anyone with a terminal illness could have. If I were to be diagnosed with a terminal illness, I would want to be able to determine when I would pass. If a doctor had told me that I only had six months to live, I would want to gain control of my life before it diminished right in front of me. I would want to have the option to exit the world before a disease had consumed my life. Before I am to remain in a bed where others are to take care of my everlasting needs because I am unable to care for myself, to know that I could die before I got to this point would bring such comfort. These wishes could all be granted with physician-assisted suicide, also known as death with dignity.
Physician-assisted suicide gives a mentally competent patient the ability to request to die on their own terms. After going through a strict process of questioning and evaluations, a patient could be granted a lethal medicine. Receiving this medication means that a patient will be able to take it at their own discretion. It gives the freedom for a patient to stop the suffering before it gets to the point of unimaginable pain. This gives the patient some control of their own life. Most importantly, this will give a patient the option to do what they believe is right for themselves.
Due to federal law, there are few states that currently give people this freedom. Knowing that families would not have to worry about their loved ones — that they would no longer have to sit and wait for them to pass — is a dream that many dying patients have, but this situation does not exist in most of the United States. Physician-assisted suicide would give this freedom to many who are dying a slow and painful death. This would allow patients to take control of their lives and have the final say.
It is important for them to have the ability to end their lives before they lose everything about themselves and before the pain medicine consumes their life where they may become drug resistant, mentally incompetent, irritable and so much more. This allows their families to see them for who they are instead of what they will become. Knowing the consequences that come along with such illnesses will only give families the false hope that everything will be better. Knowing that family and friends will sit in uncertainty of when death will come only adds to the pain. Death with dignity will end this. This will give families the comfort of knowing they will not have to sit at their parent’s, sibling’s, significant other’s or friend’s bedside praying for the Lord to take them, to end this pain. They will no longer have to hear the cries of the dying and will not have to hold such a burden. Families can be at peace in knowing that whoever it may be could die before it got too bad.
Working in the healthcare field — at a nursing home — I have experienced these wishes with countless family, friends and residents. I have sat by my residents’ bedsides and prayed along with them. I have gotten close to my residents and prayed that they would just pass on. I have witnessed a room full of family as they pray to God for a miracle. The memory of everlasting sadness on their faces cannot be forgotten. Being asked permission from my residents if it is ok to die — to be told that they are ready to move on — is always difficult to deal with. Watching a resident deteriorate slowly and give up hope is one of the most heartbreaking things that healthcare workers can witness. Had death with dignity been more available in the states, more patients could have passed on in a humane way.
Death with dignity is not meant to be viewed as physicians encouraging their patients to give up, but to give them an opportunity to pass on in a better light. It allows them to pass on after receiving such dreaded news, to give them a chance to remain in control before it is too late. Physician-assisted suicide improves the comfort in terminally patients as well as their families, friends and healthcare workers.