Dr. Jack Kevorkian will be released from jail today after spending 8 of his 10 – 25 year sentence. Kevorkian was found guilty of second-degree murder for the 1998 death of Thomas Youk, a 52 -year-old-man with ALS. Currently only one state, Oregon, legally allows for physician assisted suicide.
Personally I have no problem with Euthanasia. I believe that my loved ones should have the same rights afforded to my pets. I think it allows folks to be proactive about the quality of their life and take advantage of medicine when there are no loop holes left. For example, we take brain dead patients off ventilators before they wean themselves off. We place DNR (do not resuscitate) orders in charts. We create living wills that say “no” to tube feedings or artificial means of life. We have to right to go against medical advice. There are ways to die without anyone going to jail. No one questions those actions, but out and out end a life, on purpose, and people get a little uneasy.
I once had a terminally ill patient that was also silently aspirating her food. Small amounts of food and liquid would sneak past her epiglottis, enter her airway and eventually make it down to her lungs. If she continued to eat, she would contract pneumonia and die. Officially my recommendation was that she stop eating and drinking, get an NG tube inserted and go home. When I sat down with her family to explain my findings/recommendations they were upset – for about 30 seconds – until they made the connection that their full-blooded, Italian mother, who loved nothing more than to cook for her family, could either slowly die a painful death from cancer or quickly die from eating her favorite foods.
Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. They thanked me, signed some forms saying that they were going against medical advice and left. I’m guessing that she made a big ass pot of pasta the second she came home, washed it down with a glass of chianti and eventually let that take her from this world. Not a bad way to go.
Opponents of euthanasia say that we’re arrogantly “playing God”. News flash, folks – we’ve been playing God for a while now. We take birth control pills. We take fertility drugs and artificially inseminate ourselves. We abort babies. We give transgendered men hormones, breast implants and remove their penises. We transplant hearts and lungs and kidneys and livers. We place cochlear implants on the outside of our skulls so that the deaf can hear. We get dialysis when our kidneys fail to do the job. We fit ourselves with titanium prosthetics. We clone sheep and name them Dolly. We pull our faces as tight as trampolines when gravity begins to do its job a little too well.
It’s hypocritical to allow ourselves to play God to create life and extend life but not to end life. We’re an advanced and evolved society. We shouldn’t have to sit by and watch those that we love suffer unnecessarily, especially when we have the technology to ease their pain.
Of course we’d have to rethink shit, like our religious beliefs regarding suicide and the legal ramifications for doctors. People are already litigation crazy – imagine the malpractice insurance rates for doctors that helped their patients die. Since doctors are supposed to first do no harm, it technically goes against everything they stand for so perhaps doctors aren’t the professionals that should be in charge of this. Maybe it’s too big a conflict of interest to give doctors that type of power. Perhaps a sub-specialty in medicine needs to be created where health care workers versed in geriatrics, hospice, pain management and medical ethics become the experts in the field of euthanasia. Then all doctors could send their terminally ill patient to these particular experts to figure out what’s the best course of action.
I don’t think Dr. Death will be participating in any more physician-assisted suicides. He’s 79 and in ill health, so unless its his own, he’ll probably focus more on legislation and awareness. Never-the-less his release will bring this debate back into the forefront. Since as a society, we’re living longer, perhaps the time is now to get to the bottom of this.
Image taken from www.trinity.edu