On a very personal note: My cat was terminally ill with lymphoma. I had 12 precious years with him and can’t imagine that he’s gone already. It was all so sudden, we were supposed to have a few more years together. Instead of letting him suffer the agony of a death from cancer, we decided to euthanize him when the time came. He had 12 years of a wonderful life and not even a second of suffering in the end. This topic has always been a deep topic of mine to explore, but now it was painfully made so much more personal. I can’t imagine how we let our fellow humans suffer in a way I would never dream of letting my cat suffer. This post is dedicated to my beloved cat of 12 years. What I would give to squish you once more, but never at the expense of your welfare…
Medical ethics surrounding things such as assisted suicide and “right to die” laws are hotly debated and much of the debate centers around medicine and science’s culture of preserving life. Modern medicine has made great advances and prolonged and saved countless lives over the years. Many conditions that were once a death sentence are now treatable and even recoverable. However, there are tragically, limits to what current medicine can do. In those cases, such as terminal illness, and even devastating mental and physical injuries, I will add myself to be elaborated on later, hard questions must be brought up. Most people are okay with the concept of when someone is sick or injured beyond repair, and machines are the only thing sustaining life, that if the person wished, it’s okay for family to “pull the plug” and let death take it’s course. The reasoning being that that person will no longer have a life, so to speak. They are biologically alive, but will never live a “life” in the sense of being the person in this world that they once were. The body remains, but the “person”, everything they were, is gone. Religious people might call this the soul. This isn’t as controversial as assisted suicide and right to die statutes I believe because at that point, one’s body will die once taken off the ventilator. Naturally, there is a greater aversion by people at the idea of ending a life before nature ends it for them. However, I believe the same principles apply in those cases as well. A life of pain and suffering is worse or at least as good as no life at all. Quality of life is what should matter, not quantity. Like others, I believe that the right to life is sacrosanct and one of the most fundamental human rights, but the right to die should also be held in high regard if we also uphold the right of autonomy too. No one should force another person to live a life of misery and suffering for their own comfort or selfish reason.
A common hesitance I think for assisted suicide and right to die statutes is that it parallels euthanasia in animals. People say that human life should be held in higher priority and reverence than other animals’ lives, therefore such measures treat humans like animals and devalues the sanctity of human life. This however, is flawed, because often times, pet owners only put their pets down as a last resort if they will suffer. Some pet owners might do it because it’s cheaper, and for more callous reasons, but it would be an insult to numerous pet owners to whom their pets weren’t “just animals”, but beloved and cherished family members. Many pet owners wish the world that they could have all the time on earth with their dying pet, but make the ultimate sacrifice in letting their pet go rather than selfishly keeping it alive for their own comfort. To me, reasoning that because terminating a life of pain and suffering early in a human being is degrading them to the status of a lowly animal is the complete reverse of logic. To me, letting a human die after a long and tortuous existence that many would decry as selfish and immoral for an animal, is the real degradation of human dignity. Think of it, an animal gets a more dignified and painless death than a human being.
Even then, most people will accept an adult deciding to end life early from a terminal illness, but I will go further to say that in some cases, I believe that a parent or caregiver should have the right to decide when to end it all when the person under their care could not decide for themselves such as young children and the mentally delayed. This is more controversial a stance, since many will worry that it could be abused by those who would be callous and cruel enough to kill someone out of convenience. It is true, that more protections would be warranted in those cases as they would involve the most vulnerable among us. However, consider this example, one I read about from a parenting blog about the loss of their child from DIPG, a 100% terminal brain cancer.
The child of these parents was a 6 year old girl. She developed a brain tumor called DIPG which thus far is 100% terminal and gives one an average of 6 months to close to two years. Many only live around 9 months or slightly over a year. This girl lived only 3 months from diagnosis to death. Within those 3 months, she was subjected to 2 months worth of traumatizing chemo and radiation treatments before spending her final month in hospice unable to move, see, urinate, swallow, in excruciating pain warranting multiple doses of morphine, or even speak. All while fully conscious and aware of everything, locked in her body. She could not cry out to mommy or daddy, nor tell them her fears or what hurt, or anything. In the 3 short months she lived with that illness, she was repeatedly traumatized by futile treatments and finally trapped in a painful body that failed her little by little, ending up unable to even see, move or speak all while fully aware of everything. DIPG is a childhood cancer, but I bet most adults if they could get it, would choose death before those horrible final stages. It infuriates me whenever I read about her, and other children like her, forced to live out those agonizing days, because they’re “human” and not “some animal” or because they’re a “precious” child who should come first. Those parents didn’t put their child first. Yes, every parent on earth would want every priceless second with a dying child they could get, but at what cost? Would those same people even dream of letting a dog or cat go through what their young daughter did? Even if they had the means to prolong its life and the issue wasn’t financial? Even worse, unlike a pet, she had human awareness of her suffering. However, because she was HUMAN, she suffered more than an animal. A parent, even more than a pet owner, needs to “grow up” and do the unthinkable, make the ultimate sacrifice so their child won’t suffer and die with the dignity entitled to any human. Obviously, children who are old enough to express a desire to live should be given that choice too, as right to life is just as important no matter what the age, but young children who cannot tell you themselves should be the responsibility of the parents to decide the ultimate decision. If only our laws protected those children.
Another category who I feel are denied their “right to die” are those who suffer from devastating mental illnesses and know it. They are labeled as “irrational” and it’s the disease talking when they feel that it’s all too much. Simply a chemical imbalance, and if they just righted those off-balance chemicals, then everything would be fine. It’s true to an extent, but the devastating, debilitating symptoms of diseases such as schizophrenia, clinical depression, bipolar disorder, etc. affect quality of life greatly. Often people with them end up in places such as institutions, jails, even the streets. Others simply live an entire life of emotional suffering they cover up. While many say to those who feel like ending it, what about their family or others? But is it fair to force someone else to live for your own comfort and convenience when you have no idea the living hell they’re in every day? True, many feel that they don’t want to give up, or let the disease own them, and I have grate admiration and respect for those people, but I do not blame or judge in the least, those among them who ultimately decide life with the disease is not worth it any longer. Unlike many psychologists seem to think, many mental illnesses are a “permanent” problem. It’s the medications that are the temporary measure. Even though their suffering cannot be seen on the outside like a physical malady, suffering from within is equally as torturous.
Overall, the fundamental principle behind “right to die” movements, assisted suicide, and euthanasia is quality of life over quantity. A life of suffering and pain with no end to it isn’t worth it to many. We let our animals enjoy the full benefits of a death with dignity. Why not extend such a privilege to our fellow man, supposedly held above all animals?