On a summer afternoon in Portland, Oregon, 68 year-old Margaret Sutherland kissed her five grown children one by one, listened to her son read the 23rd Psalm, gazed out the window toward the Williamette River a final time then hoisted a glass of water to help her swallow ten, 100 milligram capsules of Seconal. Within five minutes, she was unconscious. In fifteen minutes, she was dead…as she wished.
Cancer had already claimed one of her lungs and eaten her ribs. She had lost control of her bowels and coughed blood constantly. The pain was so intense, she could hardly walk.
Doomed to two, three or four more months of suffering before arriving at death, she also considered the hardships being imposed upon her loved ones. Sutherland decided to take advantage of Oregon’s Death With Dignity law, received confirmation of her doom from two doctors and asked for the needed prescription to end her life. When the day arrived, she put on a dress, a little make-up and said her last goodbyes to friends and family. Love abounded, suffering ended. Everyone was at peace, including Mrs. Sutherland.
How can anyone argue with that?
Obscured amid major political issues this year was the outcome of a controversial referendum put to Washington State voters on November 4th. Following the lead of Oregon, Washingtonians overwhelmingly approved a Death With Dignity Act by a vote of 59% to 41%, thereby giving rights to the terminally ill to end their suffering, and the suffering of loved ones.
Safeguards against abuse are built in to the new law which is very similar to Oregon, providing that:
* Patient must be of sound mind.
* Must be a resident of that state, over the age of eighteen.
* Patient must be declared terminally ill by two independent physicians, and have less than six months to live.
* Patients are prescribed lethal medication which can be taken at their choice of time and place. Patients can elect to decline using the medication.
* Patient must provide a written request to physicians, signed in the presence of two witnesses.
* Physicians must inform the patient of alternatives, including hospice care and pain management.
In the ten years since it went into effect in Oregon, there has been no evidence or reports that the law has been abused or applied frivolously. Between 1997 and 2007, 341 death-bound citizens of Oregon have opted for physician assisted suicide. Another one-hundred received prescriptions, but elected not to use them.
I see nothing wrong in this.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the senior population over 75 will rise from 18 million to 31 million in twenty years. Florida is home to the largest per capita population of elderly citizens. With that, comes the inevitability of terminal sickness and suffering among thousands, making this state ripe for such a law. It’s time that Florida and other states consider a referendum, a la Oregon and Washington giving terminal patients who face irreversible suffering, a choice.
America is supposed to be a compassionate society. What are we waiting for?
When we euthanize pets that suffer from agonizing and incurable disease, we call that the “Humane” thing to do. Yet, in forty-eight of our states, helping our human counterparts to alleviate suffering is called “Inhumane,” even when the patient is the most willing party.
We are a nation who champions the rights of people, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But we do not champion the rights of those who suffer. Instead, society makes the rules which require sufferers to take medicine, go to pain management, hang on until nature take it’s course, no matter the agony.
Should I learn that I have a terminal illness, doomed to nightmarish torture and agony, I don’t want pills, psychological counseling or preaching. If Florida hasn’t come of age, I’m moving to Oregon or Washington. I’ll do it, not only for myself, but for the people I love so they don’t have to watch my decline any longer than necessary, and to help save the mounting medical costs.
The pursuit of happiness also includes the right to death with dignity, much in the manner of Margaret Sutherland. Washington and Oregon got it right.