This study was conducted on chronically ill patients who have attempted suicide. Many families who were overwhelmed with the difficulties of caring for their ill relatives often did not want them resuscitated. However, the state initiated a program wherein home health care costs would be shouldered by the state. When this program was created, there was a marked decrease in the incidences of suicide. More families also wanted their sick relatives to be resuscitated when needed (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention).
Corollary to pain management and home health care, opponents of the right to die movement also cite subsidized hospice care as another viable alternative. Hospice care workers have often observed that when pain and other symptoms of illness are brought under control, many patients stop talking about death or suicide. In the Hospice of the Florida Suncoast, one of the pioneering hospice facilities in the country, an estimated 80% of all the elderly residents have end stage cancer. Since 1977, the hospice group has provided care to 50,000 patients who have died of cancer. However, only six of these have committed suicide. Hospice president Mary Labyak credits this to the fact that the group takes an aggressive approach to pain management (Loconte).
The goal of hospice care is not to hasten death. Rather, the focus is on alleviating pain, to ensure that patients continue to "live" until they die. In addition to pain management, this includes attending to a patient's spiritual beliefs and helping patients attend to what they consider as "unfinished business." This approach, rather than merely the termination of life, best illustrates a wholistic method of treating the patient as a whole, living person (Breshnan).
In summary, the debate over granting legal recognition for the right to die centers around the question of how to best alleviate the pain and discomfort of the terminally ill and the dying. Both sides frame their arguments in terms of compassion.
For advocates of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, recognizing the right to die offers those in pain a more dignified way out. However, recognizing a legal right to die can have detrimental consequences for society, as we as for the sick individuals. As seen in the case of the Netherlands, even the strictest physician-assisted suicide laws can be bent to include patients who have treatable illnesses.
This paper has argued that in addition to this social danger, the focus on legalizing the right to die takes away from the true needs of the terminally ill, namely pain management, subsidized home health care services and a wholistic approach to hospice care. Since many chronically or terminally ill patients fear pain more than anything, palliative care would help to reduce the call for a right to die. Subsidizing the health care of sick patients would also help overwhelmed families, and remove the onus from patients who feel like a burden to the ones they love.
Finally, even those who point to the need for a "death with dignity" would agree that a hospice care system with an aggressive approach to pain management, a fully-trained staff and other programs to address a patient's spiritual and other needs would be the best way to ensure this.
There are many, more enlightened alternatives to the right to die, ones that address the needs of the terminally and chronically ill in more wholistic ways.
Rather than focusing on the right to die, society should focus on these methods as a compassionate response to the needs of patients in pain.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. "Effective Pain Management Can Prevent Assisted Suicide." Suicide. Tamara L. Roleff, Ed. Opposing Viewpoints® Series. Greenhaven Press, 1998. Opposing Viewpoints Database.
Bresnahan, James. "Palliative Care or Assisted Suicide?" America, March 14, 1998. EBSCO database.
Emanuel, Ezekiel et al. "The Practice of Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide in the United States," Journal of the American Medical Association. August 12, 1998. EBSCO database.
Hendin, Herbert. Seduced by Death: Doctors, Patients and the Dutch Cure. New York and London: W.W. Norton and Company, 1997.
Hirsch, Faye. 1999. "Physician-Assisted Suicide Should be Legalized." In Opposing Viewpoints in Social Issues. William Dudley, ed. San Diego: Greenhaven Press.
International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force. "Individuals Do Not Have a Right to Die." Euthanasia: Opposing Viewpoints Digests. Reproduced in Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale Group. 2004.
Loconte, Joe. "Hospice Care Can Make Assisted Suicide Unnecessary." Euthanasia. James D. Torr, Ed. Opposing Viewpoints® Series. Greenhaven Press, 2000. Opposing Viewpoints Database.
Magnusson, Roger S. Angels of Death: Exploring the Euthanasia Underground. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.
Stern, Seth and Jacqui…