|A living will||May. 7, 2001|
|Provided by: CANOE|
|Written by: DR. GIFFORD-JONES|
|Finally, the Dutch Government has put its stamp of authority on physician-assisted death (PAD). It wasn't a near tie-breaker vote like the U.S. election. The final vote of 140 to 40 will end some terrible suffering. But in this country, the misery will still continue. That's why it's important to have a living will.
As expected, opponents of physician-assisted death have already damned the Dutch ruling. And they're rolling out the same old, illogical, absurd reasons.
They argue that Hippocrates, The Father of Medicine, preached that physicians should never administer a deadly drug. But centuries ago, people rarely lived long enough to develop the medical problems patients face today. Nor did doctors possess then the technology to keep brain-dead patients alive.
Nazi extermination camps are always cited as an example of what could happen if PAD became lawful here. It's a contemptible and ridiculous way to damn PAD. We all know that Holocaust victims were never given the choice of life or death.
What about the assertion that physician-assisted death is the start of the "slippery slope theory?" That it will lead to elimination of the old and weak members of society. In effect, the theory goes that it is cheaper to kill sick patients than to care for them.
Opponents of PAD never seem to do their homework. They refuse to acknowledge that the Dutch have not become morally bankrupt by their use of PAD. I have visited Holland, talked to their physicians, and there's no sound evidence of anyone skidding down this slope.
Moreover, the Dutch legislation has several safeguards. Patients must be in unbearable pain. All other medical options must have been exhausted. Terminally ill patients must repeatedly ask for PAD.
Physicians must also seek the advice of other doctors. And the act of PAD must be carefully carried out.
How much more control do you need? Did anyone have this freedom at Auschwitz?
Time and time again, I've heard colleagues say, "It will be a godsend when it's over." Yet they are bound by law to allow a patient's suffering to continue for days even when patients plead to end their lives.
I have seen many patients die and there is no such thing as death with dignity. It's simply a matter of degree. Patients who have a massive stroke or heart attack while sleeping are the closest anyone gets to a dignified death. Few patients are that lucky.
What about the opponents of PAD? I don't deny them the right to die any way they wish. If they, and their doctors, due to religious, moral or ethical reasons decide to go down to the last drop of blood, this is their privilege.
But I see no reason why this segment of society should feel an obligation to foist their beliefs on others. That they have been endowed with some insight into this matter which has escaped the rest of us. As I've believed and written for years, it's simply a matter of freedom of choice to do with one's own body.
Physician-assisted death will eventually come to this country. Unluckily, it will be legalized years after many readers need it. So what can you do in the meantime?
Patients should pointedly ask their doctor his or her opinion on this matter. If he or she is an opponent of PAD, at least you know where you stand. You might consider changing to another physician.
This does not guarantee a better or easier death. But some doctors are more sympathetic to a family's request that life-support systems should be stopped if there is no hope of recovery. And to order sufficient pain killers even if this resulted in an earlier demise.
I have signed a living will. It is not legally binding, but it is an additional safeguard against needless suffering. In effect, it states that I want to be treated as well as my favourite dog.
After all, we have a society for the prevention of cruelty to animals. Why not one for humans?
The living will states that I do not want heroic, extraordinary measures used to prolong my life. That I want no part of senseless, psychological and physical agony as I approach death. That it is my decision to decide when enough is enough. And that I have instructed my family to carry out my wishes.
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