The Decaturian is Millikin's student-run newspaper. The opinions reflected may not be those of Millikin as an institution.

The Decaturian

The Decaturian is Millikin's student-run newspaper. The opinions reflected may not be those of Millikin as an institution.

The Decaturian

The Decaturian is Millikin's student-run newspaper. The opinions reflected may not be those of Millikin as an institution.

The Decaturian

Are you really dying with dignity?

Travis Coates reached for his father’s gun, an act of both protection and newfound manhood. There was no other option than to put down the rabies-infected Old Yeller. He took his aim slowly, steadying his shaking hands. His mother held onto Arliss, flinching as the gunshot shook the ground beneath them. The golden dog was dead after protecting the Coates’ family from a rabid wolf, after weeks of providing Arliss a companion while his father was away. After teaching valuable life lessons about responsibility to two young boys in the 1860’s during an impressionable season without a strong guiding figure. 

Travis had put the dog out of its misery, healing it in the only way known to man- by killing it. There is no other humane way to save an animal who is suffering aside from putting them to sleep. So why is it a problem when humans do it to their fellow homo sapiens?

Dying with dignity. That is what physician assisted death is advertised as. Type into any browser search bar “assisted suicide” or “dying with dignity” and a bold “Help is available” pops up underneath, along with the suicide hotline number. How curious. 

According to Death With Dignity’s website, in order to qualify under the death with dignity status in the United States, you need to be an adult resident of the state in which it’s legal, have the ability to make decisions and be able to communicate effectively with your healthcare provider, have a diagnosis of a terminal illness that will lead to death in 6 months (needs confirmation from your doctor), and able to administer or ingest the medications necessary for this procedure. Each doctor has their own individual right to say no, or not participate with this law. 

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Family or proxy cannot request medications or advocate for the patient concerning physical aid in dying. The law states that, as a patient, one must be fully able to assert oneself and voluntarily participate in all parts of the process. 

If a patient takes medications from out of the state in which it was obtained, and successfully ends their life, there may be legal repercussions such as ruling the death a suicide or the insurance companies dealing with the matter as such. 

Furthermore, according to the website, 9 out of 10 adults who choose to utilize the aid-in-dying legislations are enrolled in hospice care, and 1 in 3 individuals who obtain the medications choose not to take them. The website seems to almost encourage individuals who do not live where MAID is legalized to: “Voluntarily stop eating and drinking; stop treatment or not start treatment at all. Use palliative sedation.”  

Only terminally ill patients- likely on hospice or having reached a very old age- who have less than 6 months to live, can voluntarily submit to requesting a death with dignity status and have the capacity to administer the prescribed medications are eligible to receive this care. 

The only states in the U. S. where the death with dignity act has been legalized include California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, as of November 14, 2023. Currently, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania are considering or currently have pending bills regarding making the jurisdiction legal. 

With all these numbers and data, it’s difficult to decipher how many individuals actually utilize this act. As per mentioned on DWD’s website under the State Report Navigator, in the year 2022 California gave 1,270 prescriptions and tallied 853 prescribed deaths. In Maine there were 54 prescriptions and 40 resulting deaths. Oregon had 431 prescriptions and 278 deaths resulting. A disclaimer at the top of the page denotes that there are differences in the ways that each state gathers and reports their respective data, therefore the stats reflect that. Some states such as Colorado prescribed 316 patients in 2022 but have no correlating numbers regarding actual deaths. This is the case for the previous 5 years. That’s not to say that Colorado hasn’t had any prescribed deaths due to the medication, but their data retrieval system may be different than, say, California’s.

Roughly 30% of patients who obtain the medications in the United States under death with dignity do not use them. It may be a result of dying before needing them or deciding to not ingest the lethal dose. 

While the numbers represented above don’t seem grand in the scheme of the entire state in which they portray, it still is a significant quantity of deaths caused by this law. Not by terminal illness or cancer. 

It is true that these patients had some sort of terminal illness that might have resulted in death in less than 6 months, but it was not concrete. Though they qualified, not every one of them had a one-hundred-percent guarantee of dying. Their probability was high, yet nothing is definite in life. There have been numerous instances where a cancer patient has received a diagnosis with a short time frame to live, and has completely defied all odds, living years or decades later. They might have had determination; if the mind is strong and able to fight, the body will as well. Or perhaps they received the proper treatment or were blessed with great support. 

Naturally, not every individual has this outlook on life, nor do they have the ability to heal from a terminal illness- it is a rarity that anyone can. Why is the solution to unforeseen circumstances such as these- completely out of our control or mental capacity to fathom- met with the ultimatum of death? Humans are mortal, and will certainly die sooner or later, whether from illness or natural causes. Why cut one’s lifespan even shorter than it needs to be? Is it due to less medical bills? The lack of support and proper treatments?

This brings another concern regarding the MAID bills in Canada receiving alterations: when will the United States jump on that train of thought? According to the CDC, over 49,500 people died from suicide in the U.S. in 2022, the highest number on record. That’s terrifying. How many individuals suffering from depression, suicidal ideations or thoughts will take this opportunity to die quickly, painlessly and with a doctor’s consent- perhaps even their own family’s- if given the option? 

Society praises those who take matters into their own hands as brave: whether that be body alterations or cosmetic surgeries, alternative styles or even something as simple as letting one’s armpit hair grow out. How are they going to react when someone wants to end their life, especially when it is a legal medical practice?

It’s been refreshing to watch as individuals with mental illness are breaking the taboo airs that surround it and speaking up about their struggles, destigmatizing taking medications or needing therapy. Yet what if this quickly turns into a Canada situation, where anyone diagnosed with a mental illness- even anxiety- can obtain these medications and end their life.

Certainly, these patients need to have full awareness over their mind when choosing the MAID option, but when one is experiencing a skewed perception of life through the lens of depression or even BPD do they truly have full mental autonomy?

If we allow patients with less than 6 months to live to have the option to end their life early, then why not those with 12 months? What is the point in living at all with hardships if we can end our lives quickly with pills or an injection? 

Medical case studies and research have come exceedingly far in the past century with treatment options and therapies, therefore when euthanasia is offered to patients who suffer it is baffling. It’s almost primitive. Trying to troubleshoot medications or other treatment options is a difficult and sometimes long, strung-out process. Often, patients don’t receive life-saving results, but they do sustain a possibly longer lifespan or less pain. 

Perhaps someone has a rare illness and their case could be studied and data taken into consideration for the next patient. Would it be more humane to let them die due to lack of information, or attempt to administer treatment and in turn learn from this specific instance for the next unfortunate sufferer?

Someone had to eat the Death Cap for the first time to know that it’s poisonous to humans. Medical doctors used to rub their hands in dirt before surgeries, and now there is an entire sterilization process conducted before a procedure. That’s not to say that letting someone suffer is humane. It’s a horrible reality that many have had to partake in for the betterment of humanity. Sacrifices have been made an infinite number of times to get to the degree that our medical competencies and knowledge are at today. 

If medicine reverts now to the ways in which our ancestors in previous centuries have conducted themselves concerning ailments or mental illnesses, what is the significance of the decades worth of experimentation, cultivation and research done by medical practitioners, chemists and other experts in the field?

In Travis’ case, there was no other option aside from pulling the trigger on Old Yeller. It was the best alternative to watching the dog slowly suffer and possibly terrorize or infect them and other animals. While there still is no treatment known to man for rabies once contracted, preventative care is available thanks to veterinarians’ knowledge of animals and medicine. Yet for humans to allow other humans the ability to essentially euthanize their suffering counterparts in the name of humanity is the exact opposite of what is being preached. There are options. There are treatments. 

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About the Contributor
Madelyn Cummins, Writer
Writer 2022- Present

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