The Right to Die: More Important Than Ever

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By Jerry Dincin, Ph.D.

Imagine being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease.

This incurable illness of the brain first manifests itself as low-level weakness and muscle atrophy. Soon you’re unable to stand, get in and out of bed, speak, or swallow food. You depend on loved ones and professional caregivers for basic tasks like eating, bathing, and going to the bathroom. You are, in essence, a prisoner within your own body — fully conscious of the outside world, but unable to interact with it.

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Imagine now the insufferable frustration of knowing that there is a way to end this anguish, depression, and indignity — but it’s illegal.

This is the plight of many of Americans who suffer from Lou Gehrig’s disease and other debilitating illnesses like Alzheimer’s, cancer, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis. For these individuals, one of the only chances at deliverance from their torture is physician-assisted suicide. Yet in most states, this option is against the law.

Opposition to physician-assisted suicide is understandable in the abstract. For many of us, death is something to be avoided at all costs, even when faced with incredibly dire prospects. The debate over physician-assisted suicide is really about the right of responsible adults to control their own lives. But physician-assisted suicide is not just an interesting, abstract discussion topic. Real people right now spend every minute of every day in agonizing torment. Such adults, afflicted by incurable and unrelenting pain, should, if determined and competent to decide, have the right to end their lives.

Demographic shifts are making the legalization of physician-assisted suicide more urgent, particularly when it comes to dementia. With more and more Americans living into old age, the incidence of destructive mental illnesses like Alzheimer’s is on the rise. Today, over 100,000 Americans are in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s.

For many of these individuals, the disease has already consumed their minds while their loved ones are forced, impotently, to bear tragic witness. Physician-assisted suicide would spare patients and their families the wrenching emotional pain that accompanies their slow, inexorable descent into oblivion.

Fortunately, many states have begun to recognize the basic human right to die with dignity. Both Washington state and Oregon allow physician-assisted suicide. Montana’s Supreme Court recently ruled that it is legal for doctors to prescribe lethal medications to terminally ill citizens. And Massachusetts lawmakers are considering legislation that would permit physician-assisted suicide.

Most other states have a long way to go before the essential freedom to die peacefully is recognized.

To be clear, FEN does not assist suicide nor do we encourage it. Instead, we are committed to supplying information and support to patients as they grapple with the most crucial decision of their lives: to end their misery or wait it out. (After discussing their options with Final Exit Network, many patients feel empowered to do the latter.)

Sadly, even these First-Amendment acts of counsel are under attack.

As medical science advances and people live longer, discussion of the freedom to take one’s own life will skyrocket. Just as a true conservative stands for individual liberty, so must state lawmakers support keeping the government out of people’s private lives – and their deaths.

Jerry Dincin, Ph.D., is the President of Final Exit Network and a retired psychologist with more than 30 years of clinical experience. The website for Final Exit Network is www.finalexitnetwork.org.


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1 comment for “The Right to Die: More Important Than Ever

  1. sndrake
    July 26, 2010 at 10:18 am

    Jerry Dincin is a liar – and NJ Today should do some basic fact-checking when giving a bully pulpit to someone who heads up a group with members facing serious criminal charges in two states.

    Dincin is – at the least – misleading when he seems to approve of assisted suicide laws in Oregon and Washington. The examples of people with dementia, multiple sclerosis and Parkinsons disease are not conditions that would “qualify” for assisted suicide in those states. In fact, when Washington state voters approved legalization, his organization put out a release stating that the law did not go far enough and that his organization would be there to “help” those who did not “qualify” under the assisted suicide law.

    As for his claim that FEN offers on assistance or encouragement, law enforcement officials in Georgia and Arizona disagree. After investigations started in response to complaints from family members of the deceased, members in both states are facing trial for their roles in the deaths of two nonterminally ill people.

    In Arizona, two members have entered into plea bargain agreements and agreed to testify against other members in the charges relating to Jana Van Voorhis, a physically healthy woman with emotional troubles who died with the help of FEN “exit guides.”

    Georgia authorities claim that FEN members actually hold the hands down during a suicide, to prevent the “client” from tearing off the plastic bag meant to suffocate them. In addition to criminal charges, the group is facing a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the widow of the nonterminally ill man who died with their assistance and encouragment.

    The public deserves a full discussion of FEN and what it stands for – but that is the last thing Jerry Dincin wants.

    Stephen Drake
    http://notdeadyetnewscommentary.blogspot.com/

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