After winning over the populace last fall, the Death with Dignity Act became law yesterday in Washington state. The law now allows doctors to prescribe lethal medication to patients who qualify. It was modeled on Oregon's decade old law and I was surprised to learn that these are the only two states where this is legal. For some reason, I was under the assumption there were at least a handful, particularly given how much more acceptable the issue has become to the public (latest Gallup poll numbers from 2007).
Local hospitals are choosing sides already, to some extent. One-third of the state's hospitals have created a set of policies for employing the law while others are refusing to participate. Apparently, the law included an opt-out provision for hospitals, mostly for those hospitals with a religious affiliation, although several Seattle area hospitals are using the provision even though they have no such affiliation.
Not to sound too patrician, but I wasn't too surprised that many of the rural hospitals opted out, but I still can't believe that major medical centers such as Swedish Hospital and Virginia Mason are opting-out as well. At least now I know where to direct the ambulance in case I'm in an accident.
Anyway, before my Mom retired, she was a hospice nurse. Her job was to comfort the families and (medically) comfort/treat terminally ill patients. I frankly don't know how she did it, I don't think I'd have the strength to do what she did, but many of the patient's families loved her as they got to know her at the long-term care facility where she worked (which has since been closed by the hospital for financial reasons).
The oncologists, doctors, nurses and health care workers were huge proponents of providing a comfortable end of life for these patients, many of whom suffered immensely. It doesn't take much to make a patient "comfortable" enough that their desires for death are heeded. What I'm saying here is that medically assisted suicide goes on all the time, whether you want to know about it or not. I'm just glad that it's legal now in WA and that the patient has the right to choose and plan how they go.
Living with a potentially terminally ill spouse also brings this topic a little too close to the forefront for me. When he was first diagnosed, assisted suicide was illegal and I couldn't imagine having to force him to suffer any more than he wanted to for the sake of some antiquated ideals of life and death. I think the thought crosses the mind of anyone suffering greatly at the hands of a terrible disease that, if life were to continue in the same way, they would choose death over it.
For those with a moral aversion to medically assisted death, there is no question or quandary, but for those who do not hold the same beliefs, they end up feeling more at a loss, panicked and hopeless about their condition and their end of life and all it's accompanying worries. I know when it comes time for my Mom (or pretty much any of my loved ones) to pass on, they'll want to take advantage of this law to prevent an extended suffering, not just for themselves, but for their family and friends as well.
As usual, I'm always curious to hear other's opinions on these things. What are your feelings on assisted suicide? Have you experienced a loved one wishing for more help and not getting it because of the law? Is the right to control your own demise a human right, one of which is defined by their own free will? Or should governments and the law be able to take this right away from an individual?
[And, since I know Greenpa will bring this up, there is an environmental impact to keeping people alive either heavily medicated or on life support against their and their family's wishes. So, I don't know how this stacks up to your piles of foreskins analogy, but there you go.]