August 14, 2014

The Right to Life...and Death: Choosing how you die is a natural extension of bodily autonomy

We often discuss being pro-choice only in terms of abortion. I personally find that definition to be very slim.

My definition of pro-choice is the support of bodily autonomy and your right to decide what you do with your body. So, while they are at perhaps opposite ends of the life cycle, my support of doctor-aid-in-dying is a natural extension of my own belief that it is your body, your only body, and you are entitled to do with it what you would like.

I recently ran across a look at where the movement for aid-in-dying currently stands, and ran across a piece by Richard Harris for Market Watch that was intriguing. Mr. Harris shared what brought him to look into the status of the right-to-die, if you will, movement:
When I read recently that NPR talk show host Diane Rehm, (whom I’ve known for more than 30 years) had lost her husband of 54 years, I naturally felt sad. But sadness turned to shock when I learned how John Rehm died. 
After years of Parkinson’s slowly robbing him of most of his functions — he could no longer feed himself or use his arms and legs — Rehm asked his doctor for help. He wanted to die. 
But Rehm’s physician was based in Maryland, not one of the handful of states where doctors are permitted to provide their terminally ill patients with life-ending medication for a quick, peaceful and painless death. His only option: refuse all food and water. Death by dehydration. It took 10 days. 
“We don’t let our little animals suffer and people shouldn’t have to suffer,”Diane Rehm told NBC News . And because Rehm says her husband “felt betrayed” by his doctor and that his suffering was “unnecessary,” she’s gone public.
This story horrifies me.

Every human being is entitled to control over their lives, over their bodies, and the idea that we can reach out for the end of suffering--and have a medical professional willing to help--but be unable to secure this final treatment because of moral absolutism is mind-boggling for me.

If I choose to die, I should have the right to do so. It's my body. On what grounds does the state legislate my actions regarding it--or the medical treatments that I choose?

Harris mentioned that support for the movement has grown:
Over the past 40 years, according to Gallup, public support has grown from 53% to 70% for a doctor “being allowed to end a patient’s life by some painless means if the patient and his or her family requests it.” But when the phrase “doctor-assisted suicide” is used, support is only 51%. 
It should be noted that "aid in dying" and "assisted suicide" are two distinct terms. Aid in dying refers to helping a patient who is terminally ill in pain, while assisted suicide refers to assisting an otherwise healthy person to die. Today, I won't get into my feelings on assisted suicide, because they are more muddled.

Aid in dying allows someone who is otherwise in overwhelming amounts of pain to die with some dignity. It is performed at the request of the patient, and his or her representatives, with their full knowledge and consent. The idea of "death squads" where doctors make the decision is laughable--doctors should never decide on medical treatments for patients. They should give their well-informed, authoritative opinion, and all relevant information, and let the patient make the decisions. That's in any case, and should not be any different for aid in dying.

Harris also quoted the following perspective from an oncologist who supports the right to aid-in-dying:
“Cody very clearly taught me that harm for her would have been taking away the control,” Morris said on The Diane Rehm Show. “It would have been saying you have to wait and linger in a state of unconsciousness or pain, you have to know that your children and your family are going to watch the suffering. And for her, that would have been the harm. So what she taught me was that harm is different for every single one of us.” 
Harm is different for every single one of us--so very true.

That entire piece, which I have only quoted a small portion of, is so incredibly worth the read. A great look at the movement and why this right needs to be gained.

I'll close with this.

I can remember the passing of my grandfather, whom I've talked about in past posts, after a short battle with a very aggressive lung cancer. He wasted away before our eyes and languished in absolute agony, with near constant morphine administration, for the last weeks of his life. His memory went quickly, leaving him unable to recognize many of the people around him. His body was broken.

If he, in that moment, had asked for help in dying, in making it to the end, who would we have been to deny him? What good would have come of it? What could possibly justify us, who would not have to bear the pain, telling someone else that they should bear it?

Doctor assisted dying is a basic human right--the flipside, if you will, to the right to life. It's a matter of basic human dignity that is currently not recognized in most of our nation.

And at the end of the day, it really comes down to this: My body is mine. And I should be the one that decides what happens to it.

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