Washington recently passed the “death with dignity” law, also known as Initiative 1000, which allows a terminally ill person to order a lethal dose of medication.
This may sound like a dismal decision, and there are many who deem it unethical, but I believe it should be the right of the terminally ill to decide for themselves.
The I-1000 measure was approved by a margin of 57.76 percent to 42.24 percent. Oregon is the only state to have enacted similar legislation. I-1000 would permit terminally ill, mentally competent adults who are medically diagnosed with an untreatable disease — likely to be fatal within six months — to request and self-administer lethal medication prescribed by a physician.
The measure requires two oral and one written request, a prognosis and mental competency confirmed by two physicians, two waiting periods and physician verification of an informed patient decision. Each step of the process must be approved by two physicians. Only the patient is allowed to administer the medication.
These safeguards work to ensure that terminally ill patients are making a voluntary and well-informed decision. These same precautionary methods have worked successfully for more than 10 years in Oregon.
In a Seattle Post article, former Washington Gov. Booth Gardner, who has Parkinson’s disease, said Oregon’s experience helps a lot. Opponents say there aren’t safeguards and that’s not the truth.
Earlier this year, the Oregonian wrote that the law “helped elevate end-of-life care” and that “in a decade of experience with the law, no abuses have shown up.” The Seattle Times added that “those it affects, and their families, will be thankful for its passage.”
Independent studies of Oregon’s Death with Dignity law prove that the safeguards protect patients, prevent misuse and coercion, and allow mentally competent, terminally ill patients the option of a peaceful, dignified death. People with terminal cancer and AIDS have this right.
Opponents of the measure raise the potential presence of murder or, more likely, of the patient feeling a familial duty to take their own life.
Some supporters of the Death with Dignity measure include former Gov. Gardner, State Sen. Darlene Fairley, State Rep. Jamie Pederson, the American Medical Student Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Medical Women’s Association, the Lifelong AIDS association, the National Women’s Law Center, the National Association of Social Workers and the Washington State Public Health Association, to name a few.
I-1000 aims “to improve the care for all dying patients, by increasing awareness among doctors, allowing an open and honest conversation between doctors and patients, improving pain management and palliative care, and providing patients with a sense of control and peace of mind,” according to the Yes on 1000 organization. Once a person is deemed competent, the choice should be theirs alone.
The main opponent to the Death with Dignity law, as it has been in every other state that’s proposed similar humanitarian legislation, is the Catholic Church. Those who oppose I-1000 rob patients of their right to autonomy and, ultimately, their dignity.
We should treat those suffering from terminal illnesses as being moral people capable of making their own life decisions. We also should respect their end-of-life choices.
Celeste Martinez is a senior journalism major and a contributing writer for the Daily Forty-Niner.