As of May 15, 2018, California’s physician-assisted suicide law has been overturned by a judge in Riverside, California. The law states that terminally ill adults with less than six months to live can be prescribed “end of life” drugs in order to die on their own terms. No longer counting California, four states have legalized physician-assisted suicide, Washington included.
This may seem like a distant issue for a lot of us. After all, a lot of us are young, in good health, or both. It’s not fun to think about dying and on the sort of bright summer days that the Pacific Northwest has been experiencing recently, the idea that we might be facing terminal illness someday is a reality most of us would prefer to ignore.
But we shouldn’t ignore it. Physician-assisted suicide is not a moral or a religious issue. It’s simply about an individual’s right to bodily autonomy and in situations where a person’s quality of life is in dramatic decline, that person should have the right to choose how they die.
Opponents of assisted suicide will often claim that the “end of life” prescriptions will be handed out freely under the new law, to anyone who asks for them. That simply isn’t true. In Washington, for example, a person must have less than six months to live to be allowed to request the medication. They also must make a written request, which must be witnessed by two individuals who swear that to the best of their knowledge, the patient is acting of their own free will and is not being coerced in any way.
In total, patients seeking physician-assisted suicide must make three requests for the prescription; the first verbal, the second in writing, and the third verbally and at least fifteen days after the first request.
Another argument used by opponents of assisted suicide is that it will amount to legal euthanasia by which greedy younger generations can kill their elders and claim their inheritance. Again, this is fearmongering. Washington’s laws state that the two witnesses cannot be related by blood to the patient, they cannot stand to inherit any money from the patient, and they cannot be an owner or an employee of any healthcare facility the patient may reside in. In short, no one who might stand to benefit from the patient’s death is allowed to participate in the process or the decision.
Opponents of assisted suicide might fall back on an argument about physician choice – namely, that no physician or pharmacist should be forced to comply with such a request against their beliefs. But, I have good news: they aren’t! Washington’s laws make participation in physician-assisted suicide voluntary, meaning that no medical professional has to participate if they don’t want to.
Hopefully, I’m never diagnosed with a terminal illness. But if I am, I want to have choices about how to face the end of my life.
I can’t say what I’d choose to do. But everyone deserves to have the choice about what to do with their lives and their bodies.
We’re lucky enough to have those choices in Washington. Californians should have that choice, too.