Euthanasia (also known as assisted suicide) is the procedure to end a life in order to relieve excessive human suffering. While most of the public is familiar with the practice when it comes to veterinarians putting down suffering pets, many may not be aware of the US euthanasia laws when it comes to end-of-life care for human beings. As of 2013, there is no significant federal euthanasia legislation in place. However, 46 states have legislation that prohibits the practice with varying degrees of punishment. Only four states have expressly legalized euthanasia, with physicians in Montana requiring additional court ruling in order to proceed.
Medical ethics has long had a number of controversial issues (human cloning and genetic therapy among them), but euthanasia has the somewhat unique distinction of raising uniquely personal issues, namely regarding the legal rights of those who have had their capacity to make medical decisions severely reduced due to injury or illness. Typically, when a physician rules that a person is no longer capable of making their own medical decisions, a living will comes into effect. A living will is a document in which a person explicitly states their legally binding wishes regarding specific hospital procedures during end-of-life care, including: life-saving surgery, Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders, life-support, and feeding tubes. Unfortunately, many elderly citizens have not completed their living wills, and the percentage is even lower when we account for younger people who are hospitalized by unexpected injuries or illnesses. Without a living will, medical authority legally passes to the next-of-kin, who may be under extreme pressure from other family members to pursue the course of action most likely to restore function to their loved ones.
What if the people who have passed beyond that threshold? If, for example, a person with severely compromised function persists on life-support despite their clearly articulated wishes not to receive these procedures, who is responsible? Are other family members violating the compromised person’s rights? Should there be a “right to death” in the same manner as many insist on a basis for a “right to life?” A number of states have articulated a clear “no” much to the dismay of families who are comfortable with the concept of dying with dignity. Some have objected to the subtly religious undertones of state euthanasia legislation, while others have gone so far as to suggest that the root reason for such bans is financial: namely, that the health lobby in the United States benefits quite handsomely from extended end-of-life care, even if a family is not in a good position to pay for it and have in their possession a living will expressing the preference for euthanasia given a likelihood of permanently compromised function.
The time has come to grant this right to the individual, not only to respect their wishes, but also to ease strain on an already overburdened healthcare delivery system in addition to allowing families to avoid what might otherwise become crippling medical debt.
Do you think the laws are right or needs to be changed…..
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