Her experience, which prompted her to write the book Embraced by the Light illustrates that dying is not in itself a bad thing and therefore cutting the feeding tube off of someone who has lost the essence of their human nature might be the morally correct thing to do. The spiritual experiences that are shared by many who have had near-death experiences show that dying can allow the individual to encounter God in ways that living often cannot. Denying individuals the right to die in cases of terminal illness demonstrates a lack of understanding of death as well as an infringement on personal civil liberties.
In his book The Rights of the Dying: A Companion for Life's Final Moments, David Kessler lists several rights that can be used as guidelines to form public policy. Among those rights include "the right to die in peace and dignity," "the right to participate in all decisions concerning one's care," and the "right to die" in itself (Kessler 147). The right-to-die usually pertains to cases of terminal illness, and does not extend to the rights of depressed teenagers to slit their wrists; there should be a clear differentiation in right-to-die legislation between physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill and self-administered suicide for the discontented. Patients who are terminally ill should be allowed to confront their impending death from a realistic standpoint, given the spiritual and psychological tools they deserve. Such tools include counseling in the "art" of dying well, which necessarily entails coming to terms with their death in a constructive framework.
Relative to cases like that of Terry Schiavo, Kessler notes, "In many cases technology does nothing more than increase the length and depth of suffering at the end of life," (158-9). Especially in the Schiavo case, the length and depth of suffering applied even more to the family members than to the patient herself: death is usually harder on the living than on the dying or on the deceased, whose pain is relieved in the moment of death compared with the lifelong grief endured by surviving loved ones. Similarly, Melvin I. Urofsky reminds readers of the "fact that end-of-life treatment for many people is terribly bad, often little more than a warehousing of the sick and infirm until they die ... The debate should not be allowed to become one of all or nothing, suicide or suffering," (Lethal Judgements 158). Sound public policy takes into account the current limitations of the modern medical system in offering the terminally ill an enjoyable environment in which to spend their last days and in offering the family of the terminally ill improved means with which to deal with their grief. Until then, however, public policy must be shaped to account for the varying needs of those who suffer from terminal illness.
Forming public policy on the subject of death and dying is tricky, bound to be contentious and controversial. As thorny a topic as abortion rights, right-to-die remains so central to American politics that an emergency session of Congress was called to deal with the Terry Schiavo case. Central to the right-to-die controversy are issues regarding personal civil liberty vs. The rights of the state. However, behind all right-to-die or right-to-live legislation are core issues of value, norm, and spiritual belief. In a society that generally cultivates a belief in God and the afterlife, the United States should logically be posed to permit right-to-die. Yet opponents of assisted suicide cling to each ounce of life, even life in a persistent vegetative state. Public policy should be altered to permit patients with terminal illnesses to die with dignity if they should choose, based on the immutable fact that death is both inevitable and though frightening, potentially a liberating experience.
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