Dying Well

Anything and everything about death and dying.

To Kill or Be Killed...That Is the Question

Is euthanasia or assisted suicide morally wrong?

And is either one morally okay? A recent article found in a newspaper in Nova Scotia brings that debate to the forefront of my mind. I've found people have a tendency to get very riled over this subject when it's presented to them. Most religions preach that suicide is morally wrong. Whether the death comes at the hands of oneself, or through the assistance of a doctor, in the eyes of most religions, it is, simply stated, not okay.

Personally I try to stay away from moral debates. What is wrong or right for me may be 1) wrong or right for someone else and 2) wrong or right for me if I find myself in a different set of circumstances. I would like to think that there are reasons why people die before they are ready or who continue to live long past the time they even care to exist anymore. But, the truth of the matter is, I don't have the answers. Many will say things like "it's the will of God" or "God must still have something for you to do here on Earth." Yep, tell that to the person who lives with chronic pain that they still place at a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10, despite the pain killers and other medications they are on. Or the person who is unable to get out of bed anymore and who have few, if any, friends and family members coming to visit.

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As a medical social worker for a hospice, I've heard countless times in countless ways the question "Why am I still alive?" Though I often am left to treat it as more of a rhetorical question, I've learned that those who are brave enough to put a voice to it have a genuine desire for an answer. Unfortunately, I cannot give it to them.

I do not know why a patient who has lived a long life of 90+ years is still alive, despite their self-admitted wish to longer have it be so. I do not know why a patient who has lived in continuous pain, day after day, due to their various prognoses must continue to do so regardless of their own thoughts on the matter.

Time'sWhat I do know is that the debates between euthanasia, assisted suicide, and/or "leaving it up to fate" are ones that find themselves in the news periodically. As with most things, there aren't clear answers as to what should be done, so much of the time the decision is left to the last - fate. The person will die when it's their time.

Despite some countries, and even a few US states, creating laws surrounding euthanasia, the debates continued until the laws were changed or overturned. The article mentioned above cites abuses to the laws, such as patients "being euthanized without consent and/or to free up hospital beds." These abuses are what eventually led to a "rule change." I will be the first to advocate against the abuses brought upon by loosely formulated laws, but maybe throwing the baby out with the bathwater isn't the best route to take.

As I said, I don't tend to get into moral debates; however, I will say this. It is crucial that, in order to not be a disservice to the people we love and serve, I believe we should prioritize this topic and give it the attention it deserves. Yes, it's a slippery slope. Yes, it's a very controversial topic. But like many debates, the opinions of the people who are affected the most are too often left out. Maybe instead of it being disputed solely by those whose quality of life is still preserved, we could instead include those whose quality of life has been annihilated. It just seems slightly odd that we assist our pets towards a dignified death so as to prevent unnecessary suffering, yet we don't allow the same for other human beings regardless of that individual's desires.

Angela Baker, LCSW, works for a hospice as a Medical Social Worker.

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