This Op-Ed appears in Florida Today newspaper today.
Florence was an 81-year-old Oregon resident, diagnosed with painful pancreatic cancer. The doctor gave her less than six weeks to live. After a second opinion by another doctor, she elected to die with dignity.
On a Saturday afternoon, she invited her two adult kids and their kids, to her apartment. She hugged them all, shared loving words, sat on a sofa and lifted a glass of water. She swallowed 10 Seconal sleeping pills. Within 30 minutes, she was consumed in eternal sleep.
Some folks may find this gruesome, but it’s worthwhile talking about.
Free-thinking people with debilitating and incurable illnesses should have the right to choose when and how to end their lives (with restrictions and caveats). Once people arrive at advanced ages and then suffer with horrible diseases and/or pain from which there is little relief, they should be afforded opportunities to make a clear and thoughtful choice. The technology is at our disposal, so why not?
We have deep compassion for terminal animals in horrible pain, so we do the humane thing. The difference is that human beings who are suffering can make the choice themselves. It’s called doctor-assisted suicide.
The states of Washington, Oregon, New Mexico, Montana and Vermont have enacted laws that allow people with verifiable fatal diseases to obtain relief from physicians who can write prescriptions for medicine that achieves a peaceful, self-induced death. Since 1997, Oregon reports that 1,327 patients have been given such prescriptions, while only 859 have actually carried out suicide. Currently, another 17 states have introduced aid-in-dying bills.
Two objections generally surface against such laws. One is religious based, which reverts to faith. If the process violates the tenets of one’s religion, they certainly should not be forced or coerced into such a situation. But if the patient pleads for relief and death is imminent, he/she should be afforded the same compassion we show cocker spaniels.
Another concern is the risk of abuse. People fear such legislation may provide an avenue for selfish and unfeeling people to get rid of granny. Would family members be able to manipulate elderly relatives into an early grave against their will? Most of these laws include built-in protections within the language of the statute. A patient must be of sound mind, must knowingly request the relief, reside at least six months in the state and be within six months of certain death.
When considering the tortuous pain terminal patients suffer while fighting diseases like lung or liver cancer with drugs as the only relief, it is nothing less than a humane act to provide an option to end suffering. Such laws not only aid victims, they end ongoing anguish for parents, siblings, spouses and offspring who must continually watch and weep for stricken loved ones. It also puts a screeching halt to the ballooning health care cost machine where expenditures can rack up by mega-thousands of dollars.
Those who are lucky will arrive at old age and eventually pass away peacefully. Some of us are not so lucky. Some are doomed to months or years of fruitless struggle, which can be alleviated.
The nation is growing older, which means the country will be growing sicker. According to recent studies, America’s 65-plus population increased from 35 million in 2000 to 44.7 million in 2013. Of all states, Florida should be enacting such a law. According to the Census Bureau, the Sunshine State ranks No. 1 in per capita old-age population, with 18.7 percent of Florida’s 20 million people older than 65. As the population ages further, the problems of terminal disease will continue to rise as will the burdens of health care costs.
Tallahassee should be considering such a law for Florida. If not here, then where?