Physician-assisted suicide, what exactly is it and why would someone want to do it? PAS is when a doctor prescribe a medication to help a person with a deadly illness end their life. Someone would want to do die this way if they feel like they have no independence and quality of life or if they’re scared of the pain they’re suffering from will increase. “Vulnerable people do not seem to be pressured to this.” When a person is diagnosed with an illness that will eventually lead to death it makes them feel as if they have lost control of their life. Although they cannot control the illness they have, PAS gives them a sense of control over their life. They decide how, when, and where they die.
In June of 1997 it all began. The Supreme court states that laws banning physician-assisted suicide doesn’t break the constitution. The court left the decision to allow physicians aid in dying up to the individual states.
This way of dying is legal in the United States in six of fifty states: Washington, Montana, Colorado, Vermont, Oregon, and California. 90% of people say that the reason for wanting to do this is a decreasing ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable. 90% of people say that the want to do this is because of a loss of autonomy. 65% say that the reason for wanting to do this is because of a loss of dignity.
In the state of Oregon, less than two thirds of patients that receive a prescription for PAS die from ingesting the medications. Between 1997-2016, 1,746 prescriptions were written beust only 1,127 patients went through with it.
Physician-assisted suicide is also legal other places around the world: nationally in Canada since June 2016, The Netherlands but only under strict circumstances, Belgium legalized euthanasia (“the painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease or in an irreversible coma”) in 2002, Luxembourg legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide in 2009, Colombia under strict and defined regulations, and in Japan under strict and defined regulations.
Not just anyone can qualify for PAS. In order for a doctor to prescribe a medication to do this there are many things one must be able to do. One must be diagnosed with an illness that will kill the person in six months or less and has been confirmed by two physicians, Must be an adult where the law is i effect. The person must be capable of making and communication your healthcare decisions. And also able to take medication without help from others.
There are three different medications typically that a doctor will prescribe: Barbiturate, Pentobarbital, and Secobarbital. These medications are not cheap either! The Pentobarbital is anywhere between $15,000-$25,000 for the liquid form and $400-$500 for the powder. The Secobarbital is $3,000-$5,000.
Many ask the question, how do you know when it’s time to take the medication? Only the person with the medication can decide that, no one else. About 1 in 3 people never take it because just having it gives them the freedom and comfort to keep them alive longer, giving them the piece of mind and sense of control over their life that they had felt like they had lost before. For the ones who decide to go through with it though, often decide to take it in a comfortable place where they feel most at home and at peace. A person can take the medication anywhere they want to but the laws ask that it is not taken in a public place. If the medication is taken in a state where it is illegal, it is possible that they could lose legal protections and the death would be ruled as a suicide.
What can one do if their state/country does not offer physician-assisted suicide? The obvious answer is to move to a state that does and try to find a doctor that will prescribe it, but there is no set list of doctors that will do this because many doctors fear the people and how a lot of them will react to the subject, but there are other options. One can willing stop eating and drinking on their own. If treatment is offered for their illness, deny it, everyone has the right to refuse medical treatment. And use palliative sedation.
There is somewhat of a well known doctor in the physician-assisted suicide world that goes by the name of Jack Kevorkian. “Jack Kevorkian was a U.S.-based physician who assisted in patient suicides, sparking increased talk on hospice care and ‘right to die’ legislative action.” Dr. Kevorkian was born on May 26, 1928 in Pontiac, Michigan. Although Kevorkian was a doctor, that isn’t what he had always planned to be. He went to the University of Michigan College of Engineering with the intentions of becoming a civil engineer. In his first year of college he “became bored” with the study of engineering and started studying botany and biology. In 1952 he graduated in medicine. Before he could really start his career, he served over a year in the army as a medical officer during the Korean War.
Before Kevorkian graduated college he started to become interested in death and made visits to to patients with terminal illnesses. He would take pictures of their eyes to try and see the exact moment of when they died. His fascination with death lead him to propose that inmates on death-row should be used as subjects of medical experiments while still alive. It was his “controversial views” that got him a little bit of attention from the media. The attention eventually lead to his leaving from the University of Michigan Medical Center.
Jack Kevorkian began to start more controversial experiments and thought that his research could really help save lives, at some point he pitches the idea that if blood from a bank is unavailable doctors could use the blood from a corpse for an injured soldier. Thinking that the Pentagon would use this information in Vietnam, Kevorkian was denied his federal grant to continue researching. With this refusal his want to keep researching continued as an “outsider.” He eventually was infected with Hepatitis C. In 1960 Dr. Kevorkian was qualified as a specialist and went from hospital to hospital, he published over 30 journals, articles, and booklets about his philosophy on death. “Jack claimed that his career was doomed by physicians who feared his radical ideas.”
Kevorkian made a “suicide machine” that he called the “Thanatron” which means “Instrument of Death” in Greek. He made this machine to give lethal doses of poison to patients who were sick. “Jack Kevorkian would become infamous in 1990, when he assisted in the suicide of Janet Adkins,” Janet had Alzheimer's and was a member of the Hemlock Society which was “an organization that advocates voluntary euthanasia for terminally ill patients.” She did not want this disease to take full effect so after she was diagnosed she started looking for someone to help her end her life.
One day she heard about Dr. Kevorkian's machine, the Thanatron, and started communicating with him with the hopes that he’d use his invention on her. Of course him being the way he was he agreed, they decided to do this in a public park in Michigan inside his van. Within five minutes she had died of heart failure. “Kevorkian became a nation celebrity-- and criminal.” When the news of Janet Adkins death got out, Jake Kevorkian was charged with her murder, it was later dismissed.
The years following Adkins death, Kevorkian went through a lot. In 1991 the state of Michigan suspended Dr. Kevorkian’s medical license. Just because he no longer had his license doesn’t mean that he would stop assisting with suicides. No medical license meant no medicine for his machine, Thanatron, so he began to make a new machine that he called the Mercitron. Instead of injecting poison into the person, the Mercitron delivered carbon monoxide through a gas mask.
In 1992 Michigan passed a law making it illegal to assist in suicides, this bill was passed for the soul purpose to stop Jack Kevorkian. No medical license and it is now illegal to assist in suicides in the state of Michigan, you would think that would stop him wouldn’t you? Well it didn’t. Kevorkian continued to assist sick patients in ending their lives, during this a law was passed making it a felony to do this. Up to five years in prison or a $10,000 fine.
Not caring at all about the new laws passed, Jack Kevorkian continued to assist in the deaths of terminally ill patients until he was convicted of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison with the possibility of parole. Although he was declined, Kevorkian tried to appeal to the court and also take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. June 1, 2007 he was release for good behavior, eight years into his twenty-five year sentence, also promising not to assist in anymore suicides.
In June of 2011, Jack Kevorkian died in Michigan at Beaumont Hospital. Two weeks before this he was admitted with kidney and heart problems.
Physician-assisted suicide, illegal in most states but not all is a way to help people who are dying have a little piece of mind and sense of control over their life again.
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