Dying with dignity

Merritt Beckett, Arts & Entertainment Editor
Merritt Beckett, Arts Editor

Assisted death should not be about legality and lifted bans, or majority and dissenting opinions.

Rather, it should be about individual people and their ability to assess, for themselves, the value and quality of their own life.

Betty Rollin, author and member of the board of directors for the Death With Dignity Education Center, detailed in a November 1990 issue of Family Circle, the events that led her to aid her dying mother in suicide.

Rollin’s mother suffered from ovarian cancer. She endured two agonizing cycles of unsuccessful chemotherapy. When her body became so weak that her physician would not administer a third cycle, she was left unable to swallow or keep food down and was nauseated 24 hours a day. Life for her was constant and extreme pain without relief and without a foreseeable remedy. She was not afraid of death. Life was more of a threat to her.

She saw no point in living only to experience a slow and painful death. She took a combination of pills prepared by her daughter that they knew would kill her. It was her decision, her life, her right.

The opponents to assisted suicide insist that any life is better than no life at all, and have little regard for the effect of modern technology and medical advances on the quality of life. They overlook the fact that man-made machines, wires, tubes and drugs are now able to prolong life past its natural span. Technology has made it possible to extend a life beyond a point that is worth living. The quantity or length of a life has become more important than the quality of the life being lived.

As reported in the March 7 issue of the Los Angeles Times, Harold Fogelquist’s mother suffered a major stroke that left her partially paralyzed and unable to speak or eat. She had not wanted to be kept alive with a feeding tube, but in order to avoid legal action from the hospital, her family reluctantly agreed to one.

The following two months, as described by Fogelquist in the same article, were excruciating and devastating for the entire family. His mother removed her feeding tube at least a dozen times only to have it replaced again and again in an unpleasant procedure that required a physician. To restrict her from removing the tube, her unparalyzed left hand was tied down to the bed rail against her will. However, she was still able to move her body slowly down far enough to remove the tube with her tied hand, which she did repeatedly.

She died shortly after her doctor decided that the best way to protect her from herself was to once again violate her wishes and insert a “jejunal” feeding tube into her stomach through her abdomen. She died only after being forced to endure months of torture. Her suffering was prolonged by those who did not respect her ability or her right to make a personal decision for herself.

If a competent person is able to assess his or her life as being unfit to be lived or so full of suffering as to be, to them, not a life at all, that person should be given the respect and authority to end his or her life with the help of a physician and in a manner that is as painless and dignified as possible.

The fact of the matter is that those people who condemn assisted death on the premise that they have a responsibility to protect all life have forgotten that it is not their life in question, and not their decision to make.

These are egotistical, self-righteous people who believe they know what is good and moral and right for all people. Their way of making certain that we all live in a morally acceptable world (by their standards, of course) is to take away the freedom of individuals to make educated, rational, personal decisions on their own without fear of judgment or legal ramifications. They are lacking the compassion and respect that would tell them to stay out of the lives of those who have suffered enough.

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