Euthanasia, or physician-assisted suicide, is defined as the “painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable or painful disease or in an irreversible coma” (Oxford English Dictionary). In American law, this is interpreted as being terminally ill and with less than six months to live. It is a highly controversial and sensitive topic that has been the subject of much debate over the last few years. Given that euthanasia is only legal to residents of seven states and Washington D.C., it is not a viable option for most terminally ill patients in America. The ongoing debate about the ethicality of euthanasia continues to make it difficult to obtain, even for those who wish to go through with it.
The Case that Brought Euthanasia to Nationwide Attention
The case that brought euthanasia to nationwide attention was that of Brittany Maynard, a terminal brain cancer patient. She was only 29 years old when she was diagnosed with grade 2 astrocytoma. Within eleven months, Maynard chose to die by euthanasia after various operations failed. Her story was the first time I had heard about euthanasia, and the first time I had really given it any thought. The idea of physician-assisted suicide was radical to me. As a pre-med student at the time, I had only ever been taught that a doctor’s job was to prolong life while maintaining the quality of life and respecting the patient’s wishes. While granting a patient the right to die might be respecting his or her wishes, what about prolonging life? What about helping the patient live as comfortable a life as possible? Would we be encouraging patients to just give up? To me, it did not seem like the ethical thing for a doctor to do. But I realized that I had never experienced pain that unbearable, a type of suffering that few of us can truly understand. Recently, this is something that has been on my mind since my grandparents are getting older and older. My grandfather is well into his 90s and struggling with daily tasks, such as eating or walking. He often talks about how nearly every single person he has ever known has already passed away. To him, living alone while being shuttled in and out of hospitals every week is worse than death. It may sound weak to some, but if we ourselves have never been in the same position, how can we judge someone else for choosing to let go rather than clinging on by a thread? Euthanasia is not always the answer but if all other options have been exhausted, it could be a valid consideration for certain people. At the very least, I believe that patients who qualify for euthanasia should deserve our respect and effort to be compassionate as they try their best to navigate the end of life.
School: Kent State University College of Podiatric Medicine
Year: Class of 2021