There are quite a few ways people refer to the subject. Be it Medical Aid in Dying or Death With Dignity or Physician-Assisted Suicide or, even the more pejorative, euthanasia. Regardless, what is being described is the process of someone, who desires to end their life, requesting medications from a doctor that will effectively do so with as little suffering as possible. Questions over whether what condition the patient must be in (for example must they have a terminal illness or can they be clinically depressed?) are among the primary questions within the debate.
Regardless, physician-assisted suicide remains illegal, in all forms, in the state of Texas.
How is this Different From Removing a Feeding Tube?
The fancy way of distinguishing death with dignity from the voluntary request by a patient or next of kin is the distinction between commission and omission. The commission is the process of actively performing an act and omission is the failure to do so. Administering a feeding tube is a type of medication given to a patient which a patient is free to refuse. However prescribing a patient life-ending medications is an act of commission and therefore fundamentally different, ethically speaking, than merely letting a patient refuse treatment.
How it Works
Typically a patient with a terminal illness makes an appointment with a physician and tells the attending physician about their desire to end their life. At this point, it is up to the attending physician to decide if the patient can make this decision for themselves. If the physician believes they do and the physician is willing, a prescription is given, usually an oral medication. In most states, the law that has been proposed and/or enacted does not require the doctor to prescribe if they believe it violates their moral principles.
The drug can then be taken at a time and place of the residents’ choosing. They can also change their mind before taking the drug and all information (the record of the prescription being filled, the appointment..etc) will be discarded.
States That Allow Physician Assisted Suicide
Currently, 11 states allow the practice to occur. The closest state that allows the practice is in neighboring New Mexico. A state that had it legalized by the courts, only to have it overturned by a higher court. Then officially legalizing it in 2021 with the Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act.
In alphabetical order, the other ten states that allow death with dignity are as follows:
- District of Columbia
- New Jersey
DeathWithDignity.org, an organization that tracks laws around the country on this law, has a very helpful and easy-to-use tool available here.
End of Life Alternatives
In some states such as Oregon, the question of death with dignity is a no-brainer. However, in the state of Texas, it’s a fairly contentious one. As of 2018, 72% of Americans said that “doctors should be able to help terminally ill patients die.”
This is up nearly 100% from the first 1947 poll that Gallup tracked down that showed that just 37% of Americans supported euthanasia.
Despite these numbers when it comes to states, Americans are highly divided about the subject. In this section, we’ll lay out some of the key arguments both for and against having physician-assisted suicide.
Arguments On Either Side
In the process of researching for this page, we noticed most of the reliable sources on the matter are advocacy groups either on one side or the other. In the name of objectivity, or at least the pursuit of it, we’re going to keep a running list of the arguments for and against the motion. Though this is a national (really international) issue, these arguments are not exclusive to the state of Texas.
Arguments For Death With Dignity
Quality of Life
Perhaps the most impactful argument in the debate is the argument about the quality of life. If we are to argue that life is about trying to maximize positive experiences and minimize negative ones, then physician-assisted suicide seems like a no-brainer. Physician-assisted suicide would stop almost certain suffering for patients suffering from tremendous amounts of pain.
As an analogy notice that dogs, man’s best friend, is often put down well before the natural world would take them. For anyone that’s had a dog before and seen the daily struggle that they go through, can imagine how awful it would be if putting them down was illegal. However, if we allow it for dogs, why don’t we allow it for humans?
Rebuttal: There’s more to life than pleasure vs pain. If that were not the case then we would all do drugs, have sex, or eat delicious complex carbohydrates all day.
Perhaps a cringe-worthy subject when life and death are on the line but a very relevant one. The cost of dying in America is exorbitantly expensive for everyone. However, it’s not just expensive for the person dying but also their family, the country, and the healthcare system as a whole.
Rebuttal: Outside of the moral concerns of reducing life to a dollar amount, the cost of dying in America is greatly exaggerated. As a PubMed article pointed out, only 13% of healthcare costs are devoted to end-of-life care.
New Lease on Life
People who attempt to commit suicide and fail, disproportionately return and say they feel they have renewed lease on life. A drug that will certainly end their life, such as a medically prescribed drug given to terminally ill patients, denies patients of this chance to experience the “new lease on life” that people who try and fail to commit suicide often experience.
Rebuttal: The literature in question is talking about people who were suffering from depression and not terminally ill patients.
Saving vs. Taking Lives
Doctors are in the business of saving lives and not taking them. What happens if a doctor does not want to write the prescription?
Rebuttal: The laws, such as the one in Oregon, allow physicians the opportunity to deny prescribing if they are unwilling. However, this does set up a potentially dangerous precedent of civil rights if a terminally patient is unable to find a doctor that will write them the prescription. Furthermore, there are analogies to the abortion debate, where having another agent (i.e. the doctor) impacts the morality of the issue.
Popular Debates On The Subject
A 2014 Intelligence Squared debate nicely laid out most of the key arguments on the subject. Featuring major figures in the field such as Peter Singer and Dr. Daniel Sulmasy, the debate is a really good way to get caught up on the issue quickly.