Matthew Donnelly was a man who had loved life, but Matthew Donnelly became a man that wanted to die. For the past thirty years, Matthew had conducted research on the use of X-rays. Now, skin cancer was consuming his tortured body. He had lost his nose, his left hand, two fingers on his right hand, and part of his jaw. He was left blind and was slowly deteriorating. The pain was unrelenting. Doctors estimated that he had a year to live. Lying in bed with teeth clenched from the excruciating pain, he pleaded to be put out of his misery.
His pleas, however, went unanswered because of existing law in the state of Texas. One day, Matthew’s brother Harold, who could no longer ignore Matthew’s repeated cry for mercy, removed a . 30 caliber pistol from his dresser drawer, walked into the hospital and shot and killed his brother. Harold was tried for murder. (Santa Clara University article) Had assisted suicide been legal in Texas, as it is in Oregon, Harold would not be in the position he is in today. Oregon was the first State to pass the law. In 1997 the Death with Dignity Act was implemented.
This piece of legislation enables a competent adult who desires to end their life access to a lethal dose of medication which they administer themselves. In order for a person to qualify for assisted suicide in Oregon, they must be a legal adult and be capable of understanding the consequences of their decision. They must also have a prognosis of six months or less to live due to a terminal illness and have the backing of a registered physician (Volker, 2007). We have a moral obligation to relieve the suffering of our fellow human beings and to respect their right to die with dignity.
Throughout most of our country today, terminally ill patients lie with incurable diseases and without the means to end their own suffering because the government tells them they can’t. These patients can only look forward to lives filled with yet more suffering and degradation. When such people beg for a merciful end to their pain and indignity, it is cruel and inhumane to refuse their will. Compassion demands that we give these people the choice they currently don’t have. Despite the clear need for a national death with dignity law, assisted suicide remains a controversial topic in today’s society.
Opponents of the right to die act have many arguments against euthanasia as the right of all citizens. Some argue that only God is the true owner of when a person should come to their natural end. Others make the case that someone in seat of a terminally ill patient would not have the capacity to make a rational decision and could be negatively influenced by an immoral or poor physician. In response to the critics, I say this. We live in the land of the free and nobody should be able to violate an individual’s freedom by forcing their personal beliefs or spiritual beliefs on others (just as it is written in the Constitution! . Furthermore, as a proponent for assisted suicide I would argue that it is well within an individual’s rights to decide when and how they want to die. Why I understand the concern for patients being taken advantage of, I consider this a problem to be solved as opposed to an impassable wall. Let us come together to create a system, like Oregon, that protects terminally ill patients from being taken advantage of when they are most vulnerable while preserving the rights of those same citizens to choose in what manner they will meet their end.
Harold’s story has proved that making it illegal to die when you choose to can lead to desperate acts by either the patient themselves or in this instance, a close family member. We should have the freedom to choose how we live our lives. Whether or not we want to end our lives early or let an illness take its course and let us die naturally are highly personal decisions and an instance where individual opinions are not welcome as law. People deserve to leave this earth with their dignity intact. How that is accomplished should be a personal choice, not subject to public opinion.
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