On Oct. 5, California governor Jerry Brown signed the “Right to Die” law into action, making physician-assisted suicide legal. California joins Oregon, Washington, Vermont and Montana who all have similar bills.
Legalizing physician-assisted suicide allows doctors to prescribe lethal doses of drugs for patients to take in the comfort of their own home or in a hospital. Patients must be terminally ill and have two physicians verify that they have less than six months to live to qualify.
This is not enough.
While six months may spare patients with cancer or other diseases pain and suffering, many terminal illnesses can take years to develop. There are even some non-fatal diseases that cause a massive decrease in quality of life, making daily life unbearable, and still don’t qualify for physician-assisted suicide.
This summer I worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant in a nursing home that specializes in hospice care. I cannot put into words how it feels to watch someone die. To know that the pain and suffering is consuming them. To know that it isn’t going to end soon. To know it will be dragged on for months or even years. It is not the way I want to go and I do not wish it upon anyone else.
Parkinson’s disease is by far the hardest to watch. In general patients lose control over their bodies and become unable to eat, stand, walk and do everyday tasks without assistance. Most patients in their later stages need full-time care.
The worst part is that their brains do not deteriorate. One patient described it to me as “living in her own tomb.” They know and understand what is going on around them but cannot do anything about it. It broke my heart to have people beg me to kill them because all they want to do is leave the pain.
To this day the screams of my first Parkinson’s patient haunt me: “Please kill me! Oh, God, please kill me! What the f*** do I have to live for anymore?!”
Yet Parkinson’s is not labeled as a fatal disease. Anyone diagnosed with it would not be able to escape the inevitable suffering through physician-assisted suicide. And even if it was fatal, Parkinson’s takes years to develop and can leave people immobile and helpless for long periods, not just the short six months needed to qualify for physician-assisted suicide.
Even if you have moral or religious oppositions to the bill, put yourself in their shoes for a second. You have just been told you have Parkinson’s disease. You know that it is going to consume you for years until you eventually cannot do anything. The doctor tells you that you will be at higher risk for things like dementia, bedsores and infections because you will become immobile.
Shouldn’t people have the option to escape that? We empower young adults to grab life by the horns and make it their own, shouldn’t people be in charge of their death, too?
I commend Governor Brown and the other four states for giving patients the opportunity to end their lives on their own terms with dignity, and I hope that other states will soon adopt similar laws.
However, these laws should not only grant the right to die for terminally ill patients given six months to live but should expand for patients with conditions that will dramatically decrease their quality of life such as dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
I realize there are a lot of people who will not agree with me on this. But I challenge you to look into the eyes of someone begging you to kill them and not feel an obligation to let people meet death on their own terms. Physician-assisted suicide may not be something you choose for yourself or for a loved one, but it is an option that should be on the table. ◼︎