Let Patients Have a Choice with Their Assisted Deaths

by Randy Wang ‘24

Virginia lawmakers are considering legalizing physician-assisted deaths. Modern medicine, surgeries, and therapies can only delay illnesses such as terminal cancers and complex lung/heart or nervous diseases. Patients with these afflictions often end up in hospice care to ease their pain until they die from the disease. In these difficult and agonizing situations, these patients should have a choice with assisted death.

Physician-assisted deaths, or euthanasia, is performed by providing the patient a lethal dose of anesthetic drugs. Within minutes, the patient goes unconscious before their heart and brain stop working. The Virginia bill was approved 21-19 in a vote in the state senate and has proceeded to the House of Delegates for a vote. It proposes to give mentally capable adults with six months or less left to live the right to request medication to end their life.

The topic of euthanasia first arose in the 1870s when a non-physician first proposed to use anesthetics and morphine to intentionally end a patient’s life. The ethics of euthanasia were debated upon and led to an uproar in the United States and Great Britain, with the majority against euthanasia. The few doctors who performed euthanasia and/or were supportive of it often received criticism from fellow doctors and ethicists or jail time for illegal practice of euthanasia.
However, between the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, support for this practice started to rise, with states like Oregon, Washington, and California passing legislation to legalize assisted deaths. Currently, ten states and Washington D.C., permit some patients with terminal illnesses to request medication from their doctor to end their lives. Along with Virginia, nearly 20 other states are considering bills to allow assisted death.

Sadly, Maryland lawmakers on March 4 dropped their aid-in-dying bill due to the lack of support to move out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, potentially delaying it for three more years. It’s a shame, because there was strong support for this bill from terminally ill patients. In an interview with The Washington Post, Diane Kraus, a patient committed to receive experimental drugs for her cancer, says how when the time comes where nothing can be done, she wants a choice on when and how to die.

Criticism for physician-assisted deaths arise primarily from religious groups and from some groups that advocate for people with significant disabilities, or a few medical organizations. For a decision that involves one’s life, it’s unreasonable for other people to make those decisions. The patients themselves recognize the importance of having euthanasia as an option, not someone else’s personal or religious beliefs. Patients are left to either suffer from their ineffective medication or slowly die from their illness if they aren’t given the option of assisted death. Giving patients a choice provides an option to quickly end their suffering, which is a much more humane alternative than the former.