September 17, 2006

Should suicide be legal for people in pain?

I am on OkCupid. While I will admit that I like looking at profiles of people who "match" with me, I am not in the right emotional state to start dating again, since my last girlfriend broke up with me a week through med school and moved to Japan to teach high school English. Ah, but don't feel too bad for me... we talked about it for months and I couldn't convince her to maintain a long-distance relationship together.

I like taking the tests on OkCupid... but I don't really like answering the polling questions. I recently learned that they added some features, allowing you to blog about the questions so you can argue some of the points... and I realized that many of the ones I have problems answering are the medical-ethical ones! Here's my latest entry on suicide:

Should suicide be legal for people in pain?
  • Yes
  • No

Technically, suicide IS legal, because you can't punish someone who is already dead. Also, we probably should limit this question to "physician-assisted suicide," aka PAS, since that is likely the issue that the question is intended for.

So the question becomes: Should it legal for doctors to help patients in pain commit suicide? My first liberal inclination is to say yes, however, the term "pain" must be defined.

Are we talking about someone with emotional pain? Did they just get dumped?
Are we talking about someone with physical pain? Did they just hit their knee?
Are we talking about someon with spiritual pain? Uh... I don't even know what this would be.

Are we talking about someone with an incurable medical condition which causes them intractable pain and they have 6 months or less to live? Cancer patients, very old people (who have "failed to thrive") and perhaps a few other special conditions may apply.

People have a right to death with dignity (DWD) in OR... perhaps the gentle euphemism encouraged the proposition to pass in 1994 and again in 1997 under the name Pain Relief Promotion Act.

There has been efforts to have DWD approved in HI also, under the last set of conditions listed above. Since 2000, less than 50 people die with dignity as many go through a process screening for depression, coming up with alternate palliative measures like increasing pain medications, encouraging family support, etc. That is only 0.0014% of all deaths in Oregon.

This is a rare situation... just because people like Dr. Kevorkian abuse the system and commit ethically and legally unsound acts doesn't mean that Death with Dignity should be a rule.

Everyone wants to die with dignity, surrounded by the people who care for them. However, physician-assisted suicide should not be a RULE. However, I strongly believe that there should be EXCEPTIONS.

More to come.

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