Activists rally in support of the End of Life Option Act in Los Angeles on Sept. 24, 2015. (Los Angeles Times)
Gabrielino High School

Opinion: Physician assisted death must be legalized for patients

According to the Pew Research Center, 42 percent of Americans have had a loved one suffer from a terminal illness or coma in the last five years and, for 23 percent, the issue of withholding life-sustaining treatment arose. In medical cases such as these, the question has been raised about whether or not physician-assisted death (PAD) should be a legal option in every state.

However, it is clear that under specific circumstances, PAD should be an available choice for terminally ill patients. According to Death with Dignity, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that pushes for the legalization of PAD, seven out of ten Americans support the right for all terminally ill patients to die on their own terms.

Nevertheless, CNN reported that multiple states are still debating over the legalization of the practice. PAD is currently only legal in nine states: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Maine, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia.

To be eligible for PAD, most states require the patient to be 18 or older, a resident of the state, capable of making and communicating health care decisions for themselves, diagnosed with a terminal illness that will lead to death within six months, and be both physically and mentally capable of self-administering the aid-in-dying drug.

Although modern technology has the capability of prolonging human life, for those who are terminally ill, this only results in prolonged suffering. Patients should be able to decide how much pain they are willing to endure during their final days.

In 2016, the American Medical Association authorized its Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs to study this issue and recommend whether or not the organization should change its current policy against aided death.

At its June 2018 House of Delegates meeting, the AMA held two votes on this topic. The delegates voted 56% to 44% not to approve CEJA’s report, thereby reaffirming the current policy. This vote sent the report back to CEJA for further study, leaving the decision to individual states.

Those in opposition may argue that PAD goes directly against a physician’s role as a healer and the oath that doctors are required to take to save lives. However, this thinking is flawed.

For religious and moral justifications, the legalization of PAD has remained controversial. However, the option to die by euthanasia should be available to patients with terminal illnesses. One can choose not to use this method for personal reasons, but the option should remain open for those who wish to die before intense pain, suffering, or impaired mental ability occurs.

Therefore, physician aid in dying should be legal nationwide. In order to provide patients with relief during their last moments, the option should be available to those whom doctors confirm will die within six months.

Although it may seem counterintuitive, the legalization of physician-assisted death will allow the terminally ill to remain in control of their lives and give them the opportunity to die on their own terms.