BY LAUREN ASTIGARRAGA — The “Right to Die” has been a long debated and controversial issue. Many feel that the right to die is human right and is intricately related to a person’s autonomy and dignity. Others feel that the right to die is a mix of suicide and killing and should never be deemed moral. Currently, voluntary euthanasia is legal in Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and in Oregon, Washington, and Montana of the United States where it is called assisted suicide. 1
Some parts of the world have a much more liberal stance on the right to die. In Belgium physician assisted suicide is not only legal but Belgium’s government recently tabled a new legal amendment which will allow the euthanasia of minors “capable of discernment or affected by an incurable illness or suffering that we cannot alleviate” and those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. 2
Late last year deaf twin brothers Marc and Eddy Verbessem from Belgium were legally euthanized. 3 The laws of the Netherlands and Belgium define euthanasia as “the act, undertaken by a third party, which intentionally ends the life of a person at his or her request, and in both countries euthanasia can only be effected by a doctor.” 4 Further, a “doctor can only proceed when they know the patient well enough to be able to assess whether their request for euthanasia is voluntary and well-considered, whether the patient’s medical situation is without prospect of improvement, and whether the individual’s suffering is unbearable. 5
In Ireland, Marie Fleming is appealing her “right to die” case to the Supreme Court. 6 Fleming is a 59-year-old in the final stages of Multiple Sclerosis. 7 Fleming feels the country’s ban on assisted suicide forces her to live in pain and indignity. 8 Fleming lost the court case
despite arguing that the ban on assisted suicide violated her constitutional rights and discriminated against her as a disabled person. 9
Courts have long upheld the right of patients to refuse life support. The American Medical Association says competent adults can craft directives stating if or when they want such systems withdrawn or withheld should in legal juries or illness leave them unable to make those decisions. 10
But can we truly burden people with these kinds of decisions. Don’t these situations by their very nature create a situation that would force someone to make a decision under duress? Take for example a case from Indiana that occurred this past month, where a man fell 16 feet from a tree and suffered a severe spinal injury that paralyzed him from the shoulders down. Doctors believed he would never breathe on his own again. Confronted with that prognosis, the family requested doctors bring the man out of sedation and told of his condition so he could decide for himself whether he wanted to live or die. 11 The doctors complied and when asked if he wanted to remain on life support the man apparently shook his head no. 12 Can a person ever truly make a clear headed choice once placed in a situation so tragic they knew they would only be a burden on their loved ones? While the importance of recognizing a patient’s autonomy and the ability to make decisions themselves, isn’t it just as important to ensure that we are not forcing people to make these kinds of decisions under duress?
Especially when a wrong decision unreflective of their actual wishes would be so final?