Current law provides that we have a constitutional right not to be kept alive if we don’t want to be. That is, if we are being kept alive artificially, we can have the plug pulled, the feeding tube removed, or our pacemaker turned off, as they case may be. And, if we are unable to make that decision for ourselves, an agent we appointed while we were competent can make that decision for us. This is the basis for those legal documents we create now: patient advocate designations (aka durable medical power of attorney) and in some states: a living will.
But that is a different issue: if I am alive and my body is going to keep going, but I don’t want to live anymore, can I have a doctor assist me to die?
Here’s what I see: The number of people who I talk to who think the time for legalizing assisted suicide has gone is up – way up. Already legalized in three states (Washington, Oregon and Montana), the genie is out of the bottle – and like legalized marijuana and gay marriages, I figure it’s just a matter of time before it becomes accepted everywhere.
So, for people planning now, and anticipating this coming change, my question is: Should you include a written expression about the circumstances under which you would want your life terminated – a “death wish” as it were?
Put another way, what indignities would you be willing to suffer before you would want to die? Some common triggers might be:
• When I don’t know who my children are.
• When I don’t know who I am.
• When someone else has to clean me (ie, wipe my butt).
• When I have to be fed by someone else (because of cognitive impairments, not physical).
• When I have no meaningful human connections (ie, when no one cares about me or visits me).
• If I am going to die anyhow, that is, the decision has been made to pull my feeding tube, I would rather be assisted along rather than starved to death.
I think a lot of people might decide today that if they met one or more of these standards that they would rather be put to death in a dignified manner than continue to live until their body shuts down “naturally.” Of course, for some people that is not true. There are many people who, for instance, don’t particularly care for human connections. So the drafting of these “death wishes” would have to be tailored to the individual.
I understand this is a sensitive issue. It involves valuing life. I understand it could become an avenue to financially driven decisions by insurance companies and greedy kids. But if you have worked with families, as I have, where loving people agree that the subject of our discussion has no quality of life and would never have wanted to live this way, you might appreciate that there must be a way to balance those concerns to allow a self-directed decision on this topic to be enforced in appropriate situations.
Just a thought.