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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Editorial: The right to die is a testament to effective legislation

This past Monday, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed landmark legislation that marked California as the fifth state to permit physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. Under the new law — which has been coined the "End of Life Option Act" — patients who have been diagnosed as having six months or less to live by two doctors can purchase lethal medication to end their lives if and when they please.

All things willing, the law signifies a change in how American legislators regard an individual’s right to take their own lives when presented with an ultimate deadline. There is no justification for why a human being should not possess a choice for the quality of their lives when confronted with debilitating and irreversible illnesses.

Detractors of the law have attacked it from several angles, with some offering more credible arguments than others. Despite the safeguards outlined in the law — such as the need for two doctors, and the stipulation that the patient must be mentally competent and have the capacity to swallow the medication on his or her own — groups such as Californians Against Assisted Suicide have argued this law will enable individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds, who have been shown in numerous studies to suffer more profoundly from depression, to purchase lethal drugs when they are not terminally ill.

While this is a valid and seemingly empathetic concern, the data from other states that have had "death with dignity" laws on the books for a long time show that the safeguards mentioned above are effective. Looking at Oregon as an example, as of November 2014, only 752 Oregonians have used assisted suicide as an option. Of those 752, only six were under the age of 35 and the median age was 71.

The other main argument charges that the law and those of its ilk flies in the face of God. This argument, which is seemingly the prevalent argument as to why "death with dignity" bills ought to not be put into practice, contends it is unethical and indeed immoral to enable a person to kill his or herself, no matter how much pain they may be suffering in or how much — or rather, how little — time they have left to live.

As anyone with a basic education knows, this country was founded on the principle of the separation of church and state. The relationship between health providers and the government has been a contentious issue as of late and could fill up a whole column in itself, so we’re going to refrain from touching on that aspect of the issue too deeply. As it stands, however, hospitals and the state do have a deeply intertwined relationship, and like other aspects of governance, the religious whims of the few should not dictate the health of the masses.

This is a particularly pronounced issue in the U.S. where Catholic hospitals that abide by church doctrine make up 10 of the 25 largest health-care networks in the U.S. According to an article in the New Republic, one-third of Catholic hospitals are based in rural areas, giving those residents no choice as to the conditions of their care.

Gov. Brown is a devout Catholic, himself and attended a Jesuit seminary for a time. Brown, who consulted a Catholic bishop on this issue, ultimately decided the right for one to die with dignity was greater than the need to impose religious dogma on others, in turn causing unneeded suffering and pain. Brown and this law should serve as examples, rather than vilified caricatures, for how government and the law can better serve Americans.

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