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Reflections on Ethics 106
Physician assisted death

by: John Tyrrell

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Three years ago (August 2010) I made the decision to ask the veterinarian to end my cat's life. Scootz was seventeen years old, no longer interested in or capable of drinking or eating, and unable to walk a more than few steps. She gave every indication of being in great discomfort, and would probably have died within a week had I let nature take its course. I thought it better to end the pain earlier.

I think most people would be in agreement with that decision, seeing it as the right thing to do. Most of us don't let our pets suffer too long at the end. Once we recognize that an uncomfortable death is inevitable, we say our goodbyes and then mercifully end the pain.

The question I would ask is why we cannot make the same decision for ourselves.* When the end is inevitable, when we are helpless against incurable pain, why are we not allowed in most of the world to ask a physician to give us a good death?

There are religious arguments against such assisted deaths -- well, I have no problem with letting the believers die in accordance with their beliefs. But religious arguments carry no weight with those that reject them.

Other than religious arguments, the case against assisted deaths is usually based on possible abuses. However, experience in those jurisdictions that allow individuals to request a physician for assistance demonstrates that abuse is not an issue. Arguably, the availability of legal physician assisted death actually extends life for some. The knowledge that help for a comfortable exit is available when necessary takes away much of the incentive to "end it myself while I am still able." The individual is able to feel in control of his or her destiny that much longer.

I don't think this issue is particularly controversial. Generally national surveys show that 60-80% of the population favour it. Understandably, up to 2/3 of physicians oppose it - but legislation can be written to allow individual physicians to opt out, leaving it a specialty.

Dying comfortably, for those that want it, should be a right. We provide it for our pets - we should provide it for ourselves.


* An article such as this may raise concerns about the writer. Don't worry - I may be old, but I believe I've got a lot of good years left.

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