Death with Dignity
What exactly is “death with dignity”? “Death with dignity” can be defined as the philosophical concept that a terminally ill patient should be allowed to die naturally and comfortably, rather than experience a comatose, vegetative life prolonged by mechanical support systems. Dignity is associated with worth or self esteem and is something that can be taken away. After being diagnosed as terminally ill, slowly being stripped of all time and independence the patient once had can really take a toll on them. When the patient has no control over what is happening to them or how they are going to die, their self-esteem and worth is slowly being taken from them. The term “death with dignity” gives the patient a chance to take death as it is and in a comfortable way for them, instead of their life being ripped away from them at any given moment.
Ann Mathiews, a hospice nurse, explains her opinion on the Death with Dignity Act as she experiences it first hand. Her job entails doing whatever she can possibly do to keep the patient alive. She talks about one specific patient that she resuscitated twenty-nine times until she asked herself, “What am I trying to accomplish here?” She then said, “When the monitors, ventilators, catheters, and balloon pumps were removed, the nurse in me helped to restore dignity and to facilitate the families’ grieving. The patient became a person.” A patient should always be seen as an actual person that has pain and suffering. “Death with dignity” entails that a patient can die comfortably, rather than experience a bed-ridden life prolonged by mechanical support systems. That is not the case when a patient is brought back to life twenty-nine times.
Another hospice nurse, Amy Getter states “My hope for every patient I encounter: they will be able to die with dignity, with grace and minimal suffering, the way they choose to go, surrounded with loved ones.” Death doesn’t just happen like this picture perfect scenario. However, the Death with Dignity Act allows patients to overcome their fears and suffering at the end of their life. This gives the patient a great sense of empowerment, despite the fact that they are lying helplessly on a hospital bed. The decision to end their own life is something that they actually can control. This gives them a sense of dignity because they are choosing to end their life instead of anxiously waiting for their life to be taken from them.
A study conducted by Elizabeth Goy and Linda Ganzini surveyed 100 from Oregon who chose to use physician-assisted suicide, why they chose to end their life. According this study by Goy and Ganzini, the most popular reasons why a patient asks for physician-assisted suicide were, “wanting to control the circumstances of death and die at home, worries about loss of dignity and future losses of independence, quality of life, and self-care ability.” Although only one reason specifically states a worry of loss of dignity, all of them have to do with losing your dignity. Each reason could ruin the patient’s self esteem or worth if their request of physician-assisted suicide is not granted. These patients didn’t choose to be diagnosed as terminally ill and by letting their disease take over them, they are letting it strip them of their dignity. Choosing physician-assisted suicide gives them some type of control and some type of self worth.
This visual shows the same survey with more specific results. As you can see, 81% of people said that loss of dignity is why patients seek physician-assisted suicide. It’s not enjoyable for anyone to suddenly start being able to engage in fewer activities, lose body functions, or become a burden on friends, family, or caregivers. This can certainly ware on a patient and how they feel about themselves. Although they may be cared for in the best way possible, that will not change the deterioration of their quality of life. If a person who has been independent their whole life is suddenly diagnosed with a disease that takes that away from them, no amount of comfort from their family, friends, or physicians is going to change their fate. In a bizarre way, physician-assisted suicide can restore their dignity by giving the patient something that they can control. They can choose whether they want to continue to be strong and anxiously wait for their disease to take over their lives or to simply end the pain and suffering.
“Death with dignity” can be defined in many ways, but in my opinion it is a term that provide options for the dying to control their own end-of-life care. Having no say or control over what is happening to them or how they are going to die can deteriorate their self-esteem and worth. The term “death with dignity” gives the patient a chance to take death as it is and in a comfortable way for them.
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Goy, Elizabeth R., Linda Ganzini, and Steven K. Dobscha. “Why Oregon Patients
Request Assisted Death: Family Members’ Views.” Journal of General Internal Medicine 23.2 (2008): 154-7. ProQuest. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.
Mathiews, Ann Kimberlin. “Death With Dignity.” Creative Nursing 16.4 (2010): 185-
Academic Search Premier. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.
Sanburn, Josh. “Brittany Maynard Could Revive the Stalled ‘Death with Dignity’
Movement.” Times Magazine 1 Nov. 2014. Web.