Imagine, you have just been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour. The doctor tells you that you have less than six months to live and that your time remaining will be extremely painful and you will likely encounter severe seizures and horrific bouts of daily vomiting in the months before your body finally surrenders to death. Would you wonder if there was a quicker way for the living nightmare to end? Would you want the right to choose the way you leave this planet? Hundreds of thousands of people around the world are suffering from debilitating, terminal illnesses and diagnoses like this. Yet, these people are unable to be put out of their pain and misery with dignity and respect due to archaic laws that do not allow assisted suicides. Unlike patients whose illnesses aren’t as extreme and have a survival chance, the terminally ill patient has no chance of being cured. Given their death is certain and imminent, this pathway to death is truly not fair – for the individual suffering the illness as well as their family, who must endure the horror of watching their loved one suffer miserably for an unknown amount of time. Today, I would like to explore some of the main arguments that are commonly used to prevent Euthanasia from being a legal option for the terminal patient. By exposing the flaws in current arguments, it will be shown why medical Euthanasia is a humane and compassionate option and should therefore be legalised for terminally-ill patients in Australia.
The most common objection to Euthanasia is the belief that medical technology today is remarkably intelligent and has achieved feats in prolonging the lives of humans. Breathing devices, respirators and heart technology has helped to save the lives of those with failing lungs and hearts. For those who are lucky enough to have a survival chance, medical technology is truly a miracle. However, for the terminally ill patients, medical technology does not cure the patient, it simply prolongs their suffering, making it even more painful and agonising day by day. Respirators and high dosages of drugs cannot save the terminal patient from the victory of a disease or an illness. In fact, kills them quicker.
Further to the prolonging of death for the patient, the unbearable physical suffering can be the hardest thing to watch for their family. In addition to the emotional burden of watching a loved one suffer, the stress of the financial costs of medical treatments can also take a huge toll on all involved. For immediate family members, this can cause immense stress on top of the fact that their loved one is also dying. The patient also experiences the stress of knowing the financial burden that they are causing for their family. They live with the knowledge that the hospital bills will just continue to grow as they continue to suffer until they finally die.
According to Arcadia Healthcare Solutions, People who die in the hospital undergo more intense tests and procedures than those who die anywhere else. Their studies also state that 42 percent of patients died at home at a cost of about $4,760 for their last month of life, while 40 percent died in a hospital at a cost of $32,379. This is quite a hefty amount of money to be paying each month that the patient is holding on. Of course, the families of the terminally ill are not considering the bills during their final months, but once they have passed, the hospital bills pile up and may send them into financial hardship, leaving them to not only deal with the loss and the grief of their loved one but also the fact that they are in extreme debt. This impact can be devastating for families. If chronically ill patients have the choice and the right to an assisted suicide, not only will it ease their pain and suffering but it will also save their family from a long-lasting financial burden.
Yet, there is an alternative available to this prolonged physical, emotional and financial suffering. An alternative that empowers the patient and their family to determine a death that is pain-free and humane. That alternative is called ‘Euthanasia’ a medically-assisted process that releases all involved from unnecessary suffering. No matter the view you have on Euthanasia, I ask you to please put yourself in the shoes of the terminally ill for a minute. Imagine being so incredibly sick and in such an indescribable amount of pain that and that you have no choice than to wait it out as your family watch. Just heartbreaking.
Another argument often used against Euthanasia is that it is immoral for humans to ‘play God.’ Most religions disapprove of Euthanasia on this basis, some, absolutely forbid it. The Roman Catholic church, for example, is one of the most active organisations in opposing Euthanasia. Others who oppose it are people just like you and I. People who do not understand what it is like to be dying a painful death and not given the right to end their suffering early. These people should not get the right to decide whether a dying person’s wish comes true or not. Assisted suicide should be legal around the globe, no matter the religious views or any kind of opinion from any prime minister, doctor or the general public. In 2013, 75% of the Australian population agreed that assisted suicide should be legal, 9% said neutral and 16% disagreed. Yet, Victoria is the only state that legalised assisted suicide.
On the other side of the issue, however, people, like the religious communities who are completely against assisted suicide believe that those suffering should not have the right to assisted suicide. An opposing argument from Michael H. White from Los Angeles who practice law says “Controversy about this stems from fear that vulnerable populations may be coerced into premature death, on the one hand, and from fear that dying and helpless patients may be either abandoned or subjected to unwanted and unnecessary medical treatments, on the other hand”. Tracy E. Miller, a health-care attorney and has written widely about bioethical issues, believes that “Legalising assisted suicide would be profoundly dangerous. The risks would extend to all who are ill but would be greatest for patients who lack access to high-quality medical care. The gravest danger is not that physicians or family members will be abusive”. But how putting someone at peace from their suffering ‘profoundly dangerous’?
Students, teachers and members of our society, I ask you: does it not bother you that we – human beings, supposedly filled with emotion compassion with families of our own are willing to stand around and let other people have a say in the decision of society’s own actions? Let these terminally ill people suffer for months on end all because of outdated laws put in place purely because of medical and religious beliefs. Assisted suicide is currently legalised in Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Colombia, Switzerland, and parts of the United States and one state in Australia? It is a shocking truth to realise that this equates to only 8 countries worldwide. 8 out of 195 countries. This equates to hundreds of thousands of families worldwide who in heartache, watching their loved one die in a tremendous amount of pain. The path to the legalisation of assisted suicide starts here. I urge you to reflect honestly on what I’ve said today and consider the changes we can all lobby for to help create change for the lives of so many trapped in the waiting game of a terminal illness. Imagine if it was you or your loved one. Wouldn’t you want the right to choose a humane death? We as a society have the power to change lives. You along with the other billions of people around the globe deserve the right to choose how you close the book on a life well-lived.