What’s so scary about physician-assisted dying?

Jack Kevorkian

OCALA, Fla., June 10, 2014 — It is said that one can only be sure of two things in life: death and taxes.

We hear a great deal about tax policy from pundits, politicians, and special interest groups. It is a tiresome, but important subject. But we don’t hear much about end-of-life care. Can we honestly say that it isn’t just as important as taxes?

America has seen fierce controversy over the idea of dying on one’s own terms. Since the 1990s, laws which allow people to end their lives peacefully, and with the assistance of physicians, have been passed in two states. More states are now considering a similar laws.

The crusade to bring this about is called “Death with Dignity”.

Most of us agree that life is precious. How is this ethic reflected in the Death with Dignity movement?

“People who use these laws very much want to live, but because of terminal illnesses, that is no longer an option,” Peg Sandeen, the Death with Dignity National Center’s executive director, explained to me. “Death with Dignity laws allow terminally ill people to live life fully and die peacefully surrounded by their loved ones.”

The idea that people should make their own decisions about end-of-life matters is not new. However, it can be very difficult to get such laws passed. Why?

“In terms of culture, death itself is a taboo subject,” says Sandeen. “This creates a challenge not only for affecting real and lasting end-of-life care policy reform, but also in raising awareness about end-of-life care options such as hospice and palliative care which are already available in all states. Even though death is inevitable for all of us, it’s simply easier not to discuss or plan for it. In terms of political advocacy, our movement is very young, in comparison to most social movements today.

“It takes time for a social movement to catch on, and in comparison to other issues, we’ve made remarkable progress in a short amount of time.”

It is still hard to imagine why so many oppose permitting terminally ill people to die with the help of their physicians. While one’s own religious views might prohibit it, that should have no bearing on anybody else. How can we claim to live in a free society if the religious opinions of others govern whether or not we control our own destinies?

“Religiously-based opposition will not change,” Sandeen said, “but as those who misunderstand the law learn the facts about Death with Dignity, the chorus of support throughout the U.S. will continue to grow.”

Let’s hope so.

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