I sometimes hear these thoughts and feelings expressed, so I want to share my responses.
1. I want the freedom, choice and the right to end my life when I want to.
That freedom and choice already exists. When the pain of an illness gets to be too much, you can decide using a number of methods to end your life. Suicide is not illegal in the United States.
What you want is the freedom to doctor shop until you find a doctor who will give you suicide pills, even if it means that the choice to live will be taken away from some elders and people with disabilities who do not want to die.
It’s especially incomprehensible to argue for a right to assisted suicide as an accepted medical treatment option when we don’t yet have a right to health care, and the threat to such health care access as we do have is growing. For Blacks and People of Color, the racial disparities in health care are too great for us to be fooled into believing that we should have the “option” of assisted suicide as a medical procedure. As the cheapest procedure, it’s not a benefit but a threat.
2. The doctor told me that I have six months or less to live.
Doctors make mistakes about terminal diagnoses. It happens far more often than you think. Doctors should be helping people to live, not helping them to die. It is normal to become depressed after being told this. Doctors should be getting their patients into therapy at this point.
3. I want to just go to sleep and die with dignity.
People can already choose to die in their sleep by using hospice services. That’s what hospice medications, up to and including palliative sedation, do.
In contrast, there is no guarantee that the suicide pills the doctor will prescribe will simply put you to sleep in a few minutes. Sometimes it takes hours, even days, to die. Sometimes, because of the type of medicine or chemical used, you may experience pain, the very thing you were trying to avoid.
4. I want to end my life under the care and guidance of a doctor.
Contrary to popular belief, the only thing that the doctor does is prescribe the medication. The doctor is usually not with you when you take the medication, when you (or your spouse, parent or caregiver) open each of the 100 capsules and pour them into water or food and take them. With no independent witness required to be there, you might have a family member or caregiver who will give you the pills, but you’d better hope that they are not more anxious to have it be over than you are.
5. I will lose the ability to do the things that I used to be able to do.
This is a disability concern, not an end of life issue. It shouldn’t be a reason to want to die, but for the all too common societal view that its better to be dead than disabled. That very view is why doctor assisted suicide is so dangerous for people with disabilities. Our lives and quality of life are devalued by many doctors. Instead of prescribing home based care, attendant services, and possibly some counseling, some doctors see death as the only viable option for some of us.