Death with Dignity and the Right to Die
By: Katherine Godich
​Student Writer for The Journal of Gender, Race & Justice, Volume 18

Medicinal Pills
In our culture, death is a sensitive topic, and one that is not usually associated with small talk or dinner conversations. A mystery and sadness are associated with death, in addition to people’s fear of the unknown. Nevertheless, over the past few years, Americans have been forced to face this topic and consider the options that should be available to those with terminal illnesses. Oregon was the first state to enact a Death with Dignity provision, which allows individuals diagnosed with a terminal illness who have less than six months to live to obtain a prescription that will help them end their pain and suffering on their own terms.

The adoption of the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, sparked a similar act in Washington. These two states gave the gift of control to those struggling with terminal illnesses. There is still an ongoing debate on whether people should have the right to obtain these prescriptions when they are close to death. Some people cite their religious beliefs when arguing against the enactment of Death with Dignity laws, and others claim that doctors have a duty to do no harm and the mere act of writing these prescriptions violates that oath. These arguments are not without merit, however, Oregon and Washington’s Death with Dignity Acts do not require doctors or patients to participate in Death with Dignity by either forcing a doctor to write a prescription or forcing a terminally ill patient to obtain a prescription. These acts only allow these individuals the choice, and the opportunity, to end their pain and suffering when it becomes too much to bear. There comes a point when pain management and other end of life care does not relieve enough pain, or the individual’s quality of life is not what it used to be and he or she struggles on a daily basis to manage the pain.

Brittany Maynard brought this issue to the forefront by documenting her journey and opening up about her illness and experiences with Death with Dignity. There are people in all 50 states, not just those living in Washington or Oregon, who are diagnosed with terminal illnesses, such as inoperable cancers, or ALS. Many of these individuals could benefit from being given the choice to obtain a Death with Dignity prescription, so they do not have to undergo the slow suffering that ends in the loss of their life. Giving people the opportunity to choose when to end their suffering helps both the terminally ill and their families, and can help them find peace towards the end of life.

Now that these issues are in the media and have been brought to society’s attention, it is time to begin thinking about who these acts can help, and what options you would like your loved ones or yourself to have if diagnosed with a terminal illness. Even if your personal beliefs or values might prevent you from seeking a Death with Dignity prescription, consider the needs of others who may not share those same beliefs.