Euthanasia should be option for humans, too
Published: Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 00:03
It hasn’t been the best year for my apartment-mates – or their pets.
First, after about two and a half years of suffering, both of my bloated and floating goldfish died on the same day.
Then it was the death of one roommate’s pet rabbit, who had been going blind and could barely hop around his cage to reach his food. He was twelve when he died, just four years short of beating the Guinness Book of World Records age for the oldest rabbit on record.
And finally, there was the unforeseen death of my other roommate’s seven-year-old cat, who passed away unexpectedly, presumably from a premature heart attack.
It’s difficult to see animals, especially those considered part of the family, suffer silently through their passing. Often, pet owners remark that it was best that their pet died, if not just to end their pain.
But the really scary part about all of this is that people often say the same thing when a human dies.
While pets have the benefit of being "put down"– that is, injected with a highly concentrated barbiturate that depresses the central nervous system, resulting in a quick and painless death – humans are not afforded this same luxury.
So why is it that those afflicted with debilitating diseases of the mind and body do not have the option to put themselves down?
The concept of human euthanasia was pioneered primarily by the work of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, an American pathologist who assisted the suicides of more than 130 individuals.
Although he was ultimately tried and found guilty of second-degree murder, he jump started the assisted suicide debate by building elaborate, euthanasia-supplying machines that released the chemical at the touch of a button, which was pressed by the individual wishing to end his or her life.
The concept of assisted suicide has been up for debate for years. Officially, assisted suicide is considered legal only in Oregon, Washington, and Montana, though the patient must be fully informed of the choice and have a prognosis of six months or less left to them, as well as a written request for the lethal prescription.
Elsewhere around the world, cases for the legalization of human euthanasia have been heart-wrenching and, for the most part, unsuccessful.
People’s Daily reported that nine individuals from China requested a "mercy killing" for their uremia, a disease that results from kidney failure. After describing their unbearable suffering and their wish to unburden themselves from their families, they were told that all that could legally be done for them was to ask doctors to ease their pain.
It is easy for those of us not accustomed to chronic pain to point out the illegality of suicide itself, much less assisted suicide with the help of a medical professional. It is much harder for us to think that our seriously ill or injured loved one is in so much pain that ending life is a preferred option.
So instead, we sit back and allow the dying process to happen, whether it be over a period of years or days after diagnosis. We allow those in their last leg of life the "dignity" of dying organically, with little more than an extra dosage of morphine to ease their passing.
However, we do not understand this amount of suffering, and we probably never will until the end of our days – and only if we are very unlucky.
But for those who live with never ending amounts of pain and still have the mental capacity left to officially request assisted suicide, mercy is routinely denied. Instead, in order to avoid the myriad of religious and political consequences of this action, an individual is left to suffer through the last days of their life instead of choosing the time and place to finally end their pain.
Even though we extend this benefit to our animal friends, whose mental states are relatively unknown and who rely completely on the free will of their owners, it is telling that this same procedure, assisted not only by a doctor but requested by the patient themselves, is considered wrong.
In many ways, the influence of our supposed superiors – that is, the political and religious overseers that govern many a human moral compass – often have a way of steering us in the opposite direction of what should be an easy, kind and ethical decision to make.