Those with terminal illnesses should have the option of dying on their own terms

At 29 years old, California native and newlywed Brittany Maynard was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer called glioblastoma and was told she only had six months to live. After months of immense pain and suffering, she decided to move to Oregon with her husband and close family to end her life under the state’s Death with Dignity Act. Maynard quickly became the voice behind a subject that is commonly regarded as taboo in our society: physician assisted death.

Maynard campaigned for the right-to-die movement until the very end of her life, causing controversy and heated debate on the implications of this legislation. Death with Dignity laws are currently in place in Oregon, Vermont, New Mexico, Montana and Washington. Whether or not they decide to utilize it, every individual with a terminal or non-treatable illness should be given the option to end their respective suffering on their own terms. However, I believe a psychiatric evaluation and mandatory counseling should be made a part of this legislation prior to approval of one’s wish to end their life.

Because the right-to-die movement is not typically discussed in the media, many people have misconceptions about what exactly it entails. These controversial laws allow terminally ill state residents to request and later receive prescription medication that will accelerate their death, provided they are mentally competent. Prescription medication is not the only option for those who wish to hasten death, but it is the most commonly used. There are also requirements for those who want to utilize these laws: They must be a resident of whichever state they are in, at least 18 years of age, capable of making decisions for himself/herself and be diagnosed with a terminal illness with that will lead to death within six months. This legislation is only meant for a specific subgroup of people who are suffering from terminal illness and is not a widely used option for just anyone suffering through a physically or mentally debilitating illness.

Most of the controversy that surrounds this issue comes from a religious perspective, and the belief that since God gave life, only He should decide when to take it away. Human life is deemed sacred in almost every religion or belief system, and death with dignity is often looked at as a form of suicide. However, choosing to end one’s life earlier than anticipated while still sound of mind and retaining the ability to say goodbye to loved ones is anything but a selfish act. Maynard was seen as a hero by many for her courageous choice to end her life, but it was also misconstrued by many as suicide. She even wrote, “I’ve had the medication for weeks. I am not suicidal. If I were, I would have consumed that medication long ago. I do not want to die. But I am dying. And I want to die on my own terms.” It is clear that her decision was well-thought-out.

However, even though Maynard and others like her undoubtedly reach their decisions after much consideration, each individual who requests an accelerated death should receive mandatory counseling from trained professionals. The option to choose death should not be denied to anyone, but counseling should be a part of the process to make sure that this irreversible act is the right one for the person and his or her family. One-on-one advising would be a helpful step during this process and could possibly save the lives of some people whose colossal anguish had understandably influenced their decision to choose death sooner rather than later.

Those suffering constantly from a terminal illness that is untreatable, or for which treatment does not necessarily increase the quality of life, should be given the right to decide the fate of their own life based on their respective beliefs and experiences. No one should be forced to suffer and have to idly watch as their bodies and minds completely disintegrate. As a community, we need to look at death with dignity from the perspectives of those who want to spend their last days happily with friends and family. These individuals had no say in the matter of what illness would take over their lives and eradicate any hope for their futures — the least we can do is make it possible for them to have a say in how they die.

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