The Right to Die
Life is a continuum that begins during conception, spans childhood to adolescence to adulthood and finally ends with death. The right to life is an innate right and is an affirmation of the value and dignity of people. In recognition of this right, a standard determining if a person is indeed living a life of dignity, should exist. When life does not meet this standard, then it is as well that the person is dead.
Life is not merely biological life, which means that the person’s heart is beating, his brain has activity, his lungs are working or that he is growing and capable of reproduction. Rather, because humans have the ability for cognitive processes, life should also constitute the knowledge and perception about how it should be lived (Meisel & Cerminara, 2009). A person should not merely exist but his existence should have a meaning to him.
The ideal life is humane and dignified. It entails freedom from physical and mental incapacitation, curtailment of liberties, fear or violence. It requires the free pursuit of one’s happiness and personal development (Vout, 2007). The ideal life also necessitates personal autonomy or the ability to make willful decision. In this sense, life is something that is to be enjoyed to its fullest beyond just biological existence.
Since life is meant to be lived to its fullest, an irreversible condition that makes people lose their basic enjoyment of life, autonomy and their dignity becomes a justification to end it (Vout, 2007). Therefore, people should be given the right to die not on any time they choose but because the circumstances of their lives makes death a better option. Irreversible conditions pertain to medical conditions that are incurable cause progressive degeneration.
An example is terminal illness. A certain person may have been living the ideal life. She may be a teacher by profession, married to a loving, supportive husband and they have two children. She may have loved her job and adored her family. She may have felt happy and contented. However, she started feeling unusual pain. Laboratory and other tests confirm that she is suffering from bone cancer.
Her body did not respond to standard treatment and her disease progressed from Stage I to Stage IV, the end stage where remaining life is measured in weeks. She was in intense pain. She could not tolerate food and so nutrients were given intravenously along with her medications. She had difficulty breathing and was on a ventilator. Her urine drained through a catheter. She remained confined to her bed in the hospital and will remain so until she is pronounced dead.
As shown in this case, the quality of life of the terminally ill patient has been reduced to something way below what life should be. If the patient so wishes then that her suffering be ended, it is her right that it should be fulfilled. It is in recognition of the person’s autonomy. Part of this is also the right to choose how she may die, at what precise time and under whose duty. However, the manner of dying should be confined to the most humane way in order to make her passing as dignified as possible because the dying also deserve respect.
If the right to die should be made a law, then limits must be provided. With regard to the person who wants to die, it must be determined that he has a terminal condition and the intensity of his agony can be readily observed or measured (Meisel & Cerminara, 2009). The person’s decision to die should also be of his own will with the perception that his life is not worth living anymore. The method used to effect death, whether by withdrawing medical treatment or turning off the ventilator, must be humane and carried out with respect.
The right to die remains a controversial subject. In the end, it is the individual who makes the choice depending on his situation and his beliefs regarding life and death. There are instances where the right to die is justified and demands recognition through the law. However, because regulation may be difficult, strict measures should be in place to prevent misuse of this law.
List of References
Meisel, A. and Cerminara, K.L. (2009). The Right to Die: The Law of End-of-Life Decision Making (3rd ed). New York: Aspen Publishers.
Vout, B. (2007). Is there a Right to Die?. Retrieved March 29, 2009 from http://www.webservice.mnl.ust.edu.ph.