By: Leah Howard
Research in Oregon and Washington has begun to show that, contrary to popular belief, the reasons behind why many patients elect to receive end-of-life care is not because of the pain that they are in, but rather because they want to be in control of the way that they die. According to Berkeley, California physician Lonny Shavelson, it is more than the issue of physical discomfort or excruciating pain, “it’s about dignity and control.” The study goes on to state that pain ranks near the very bottom on the list of issues the patient who considers end of life care reports in both Oregon and Washington, which were the first states to ratify the law. Rather, 90% of patients made their decision based off of what they felt was a loss in independence and decision making. This study highlights the issues in propaganda that many advocacy groups for death and dying use, as many highlight the inexplicable amount of pain a patient is in.
This process does not require any form of legal or government action. There is no need for a diagnosis of being terminally ill nor is there a need for there to be a mentally competent test, both of which are required for most legal physician assisted suicide. Naturally, it comes with many questions, the main one being whether or not it is legal. This method, as Health Law Institute expert Thaddeus Pope states, is feasible for anyone who is competent and able to make decision on their own. The ethical issues come in for those who suffer from mental illness. The process for many patients is fairly easy, according to Dr. Timothy Quill, as refraining from eating food is pretty easy for most. Majority of the discomfort lies in the dehydration in thirst, as even one sip of water to ease the pain can prolong the process, which arguably can taint the phrase “death with dignity.”
Regardless, this is certainly a subjective experience, as pain and dealing with debilitating illness that can lead to end-of-life decisions is purely and solely up to the patient. Whether or not it be due to medically prescribed and recommended practices, or at-home practices, the conversation about this issue will go on.