Community Blog

Death With Dignity

By Doug Feltman

When our Home Helper’s agency is caring for an elderly family member, we are usually focused on assisting them to live a better life by stimulating them both with physical and mental activities.  But if our loved one is stricken with a terminal illness we may also find ourselves thinking about the topic of assisted dying, or “Death with Dignity”.  This is a deeply personal and emotional issue, with compelling arguments on both sides of the debate.

The top arguments against Death with Dignity:

  • Many disabled rights groups say that Death with Dignity makes terminally ill patients feel their lives are less valuable and pressures them to end their lives.
  • Death with Dignity may send a message that suicide is an acceptable alternative to living with pain.
  • In cases where the illness affects the mind, such as advanced dementia or Alzheimer’s, the patient may not be able to make the decision for themselves.
  • Doctors, who must take an oath to preserve life, may feel they have to violate that oath by enabling a patient to end their life.
  • In countries where Death with Dignity has been legal for years, opponents of the practice feel it has become preferred amongst health care providers and insurance companies to palliative care for strictly financial reasons.

The top arguments for Death with Dignity:

  • Patients are relieved of pain and suffering that would characterize their lives while enduring the advanced stages of an illness that will lead to their deaths anyway.
  • Patients’ families are relieved of the financial and emotional burdens of caring for them in their final days.
  • Patients can choose to die before the loss of physical and mental capacities that would rob them of their dignity, devastate their families, and lead to a far more painful and traumatic death.
  • Patients who suffer from illnesses that affect their cognitive abilities can write a living will, secure in the knowledge that their wishes to die with dignity will be carried out even if they lose the capacity to make the decision for themselves when the time comes.
  • In a nation where individual freedoms are valued above little else, the government should not infringe upon the right of a person with a terminal illness to choose the time and circumstances of their own death, and to discuss it with their physician.

None of us will live forever.  While we debate this issue in regards to our elderly and terminally ill loved ones, we must also keep in mind that at some point this is a decision we will face for ourselves.  As more and more states consider the option of passing Death with Dignity legislation, it’s a question we all must ponder, and find an answer with which we will be at peace.

If you feel strongly about either side of the issue, please feel free to call and discuss with me and maybe we can both learn more about this increasing critical issue.