Euthanasia, or physician-assisted suicide, is a highly debated issue of health care in the United States. For adults who live with terminal illness, the debate often seems futile and expressions of personal liberty often come to surface. In fact, many terminally ill patients who are in favor of PAS often join support groups to forge an effort to legalize euthanasia for their particular condition. If you are caring for a loved one that seems to be in support of physician-assisted suicide, PAS, it is important to understand how the terminally ill typically find euthanasia a key decision factor in their health care.
To understand what your terminally ill loved one is going through, it is important to first understand the difference between euthanasia and PAS, physician-assisted suicide. In most legal terms, euthanasia is defined as the intentional administration of lethal doses of medication with the intent of immediately ending a patient’s life. Physician-assisted suicide, however, is the self administration of medication, by the terminally ill patient, with the purpose of ending one’s life but done so at the specific instruction and direction of a physician. Just as the opinions and spectra of beliefs about euthanasia and PAS span across the terminally, so do the debates.
When your terminally ill loved one is involved in a support group or advocacy program that encourages the legalization of PAS or euthanasia, you may be, at first, shocked and surprised by their decision to support such a medical process. However, most terminally ill patients will state they opt to support the legalization of these processes based on four dynamics of their own health care. First, they want to have control over their own level and degree of suffering. Second, the terminally ill often do not want to burden the needs and wishes of their family members. Third, the terminally ill want to experience end-of-life on their own terms and, fourth, they want the autonomy to control how and when their lives will end when diagnosed with a terminal illness.
While euthanasia and PAS are not suited for everyone, and continues to be illegal in the United States, there is a growing group of adults who are aggressively working to change the legalities. Often, families are not familiar with the intricacies of these programs until such time as a loved one is diagnosed with a terminal illness and opts to join a support network or advocacy program in an effort to gain control over their own terms for palliative care and end-of-life matters.
Sources: Journal of Palliative Care, 12, 5-10.