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Dying with Dignity in the United States

“It’s okay to die.” These were the words of Brittany Maynard, a 30-year old woman with brain cancer. As her disease progressed and eventually became terminal, she decided that she would take control of her life and die on her own terms.

Although she has already passed, her death brought plenty of talks about the Death with Dignity Act.

What Is the Death with Dignity Act?

The Death with Dignity Act (DDA) is a piece of legislation passed in 1997, which states that doctors may prescribe medication to qualified patients who want to end their lives. These patients must be diagnosed terminally ill and mentally sound for at least six months. Further, there ought to be two other doctors who will confirm these facts about the patients, although the rules can vary between states.

After their request for the medication is approved, patients may only take such medication if they can do so themselves. This means they can swallow food and medicine and are rational at the time of their consumption.

Patients can still rescind their requests at any point before they ingest these medications. Terminally ill patients are also entitled to hospice and palliative care, mental health counseling, and physical therapy.

The Death with Dignity Act is only allowed in the following states at the moment:

  • Washington DC
  • California
  • Hawaii
  • Colorado
  • Maine
  • New Jersey
  • Oregon
  • Vermont
  • New Mexico
  • Washington

In all other states, medical aid in dying is not legal. However, those living in other states that may need emotional and medical support while actively dying can receive them through home health agencies if they desire maximum comfort and privacy.


The Benefits – and Controversies – That Surround the Act

A growing number currently champion a similar act in other states. For them, it offers a lot of benefits that include:

  • A sense of control, which is especially important for those who are terminally ill
  • The freedom to choose how they will die with dignity. They can prolong their lives with aggressive treatment or opt-out and live their remaining days doing what they enjoy most before passing away naturally. This gives power to patients instead of placing them under the control of doctors and other health professionals.
  • A good way to relieve pain, the primary reason why patients who have gone through immense suffering seek death
  • Enough time for the families to prepare for their loved one’s death without enduring too much emotional stress

Why Others Are Against It

Although the act gives many terminally ill people hope, certain controversies surround it.

One of these issues is the need for assisted suicide. Those against the Death with Dignity Act argue that there is no reason to kill oneself when modern medicine can prolong one’s life. Also, opponents of this legislation say that terminally ill people can undergo a period where they develop depression or question their faith, which can lead to them requesting for their lives to be ended.

Some opponents also believe that the Death with Dignity Act is discriminatory against those who cannot swallow medication and those patients who suffer from mental illnesses such as depression. This is because many of them fear that they will not meet the qualifications for this act due to obvious reasons.

For instance, opponents share that even if terminally ill patients were allowed to end their life, those with mental illnesses might consider suicide as a solution to their problems.

Those against this act also argue that it is dangerous to allow doctors the discretion of ending the lives of terminally ill patients. It may only increase their risk of being sued for malpractice.

There’s also the question of ethics and morality. Opponents of this act question the values instilled in society when terminally ill patients are allowed to use their lives as currency. They believe that there is more to life than just one’s right to die.

Having seen the facts, it can be concluded that the Death With Dignity Act is a controversial topic that has gained popularity as time passed by. Advocates of this act believe that terminally ill people should have the right to end their lives with dignity and without having to suffer too much unnecessary pain. On the other hand, opponents argue that the act is against the natural process of life and contradicts itself, making it difficult to implement.

This makes it difficult to say what would be best for our society in terms of this legislation. However, one thing can be said with certainty: more research on subjects like these will improve everyone’s understanding and help us find the best solution for everyone.

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