Assisted suicide. Death with dignity. Physician-assisted suicide. Compassionate choices.
No matter the language you choose to describe it, the point is the same–given a terminal diagnosis, the right to end your life on your own terms, with medical help, when you decide. It’s highly controversial, to say the least, but is gaining traction across North America, and other areas of the world.
For most of the United States, the options for control at end of life are severly limited. In mid-September 2015, Californians joined the residents of Washington, Oregon, and Vermont as those who may possibly be able to take control of their end-of-life options. The California Senate passed the End of Life Option Act, which allows for physicians to assist patients in ending their lives with medication, peacefully, once certain criteria were met.
As of this writing, it’s unclear if the governor of California will sign the bill or not, but even passage of the bill through the Senate marks a first, and possibly a sea change in how Californians will be able to control their final options. Edit 10/8: Governor Jerry Brown signed this legislation on October 5, 2015.
The video below shows an actual example of how the assisted-suicide final process works in Oregon:
(warning: actual footage, may be intense or upsetting)
Globally, the options are equally split by country. The Netherlands and Switzerland lead Europe with options for terminal (or in Dutch cases, not even fully terminal) patients who want to exert control over their own end of life. According to The Guardian, which details the work of one end-of-life clinic in The Netherlands,
Under (the Dutch) law, doctors may perform euthanasia on anyone with “unbearable suffering”. This goes beyond terminal illness to include somatic illnesses without an identifiable end, dementia, mental illnesses and the belief that meaningful life is completed, and illnesses for which there is no available and suitable treatment. This permits life to be ended after intensive interviewing and assessment, as well as the approval of a doctor outside the process.
According to the chart below, snipped from this interactive graphic, the attitudes toward assisted suicide vary across Europe much as they do in the US.
At this point, assisted suicide is legal in a greater proportion of EU countries than US states, but most Europeans are still stuck with the same lack-of-autonomy choices that most Americans are–if you want the right to control your own end-of-life and die on your own terms given certain conditions, it’s likely you’ll have to travel and/or break the law to do so.
Much like Europe, the state of assisted suicide legislation varies greatly across North America. In the US:
From Death With Dignity
Elsewhere across North America, Canada recently joined Switzerland and The Netherlands in legalizing doctor-assisted suicide nationwide, while Mexico has embraced a person’s right to choose to discontinue treatment, but nothing more active.
Outside Europe and North America, the legal choices become far less clear, and options far less supported:
“Legality of euthanasia” by Michael Jester Licensed under CC0 via Commons.
Clearly, at this time, locations where a person has the right to choose her ending if necessary are few and far between, leading a vast majority of those who suffer (and those who love them) to either not-legal actions or dubious options such as suicide tourism, or possibly leaving behind established life and support systems to reside in places where they can have legal options.
I find this lack of, this restricting of options to be criminal, and downright evil to folks who are already under stress and suffering. Assisted suicide, when put into action with proper, well-thought-out legal protections (as these rules are by and large constructed) harms no one. It ends a life, yes, but by choice, for rational, well-tested, and measured reasons.
I very much believe in a person’s right to choose, even to choose how they die in these cases. And I am encouraged by the groundswell evident on Twitter, in social media, in TED talks, and across the planet, of folks working to make choices available to those who need them.
I don’t ever want to have to face that decision for myself, but I do know I want it to be there, available and legal, if I do.
What about you? What do you believe about end-of-life choices as they pertain to a person’s right to end her life?