Though physician assisted death still remains rare in America, it is now legal in seven states. Lois Kaplan, a 76-year-old from New Rochelle, New York survived rounds of chemo to tackle both breast and stomach cancer. She fought and came out on top, however she said “if it were 10 years from now and I were to be diagnosed with a terminal illness that was becoming debilitating, I would want to be able to be in charge of my own death to put myself out of my misery.” Kaplan knows how hard and painful serious illnesses can be and believes people have a right to their own bodies.
Most recently, it has been made legal in Hawaii under the “Our Care, Our Choice Act.” Lately, Kaplan’s opinion on physician assisted death is becoming more popular. Support has gone up 22 percent in the past five years, since support was at its lowest in 2013. As of 2017, support is around 75 percent, the highest that it has ever been in America, according to Gallup Analytics. Here are the main reasons why more people are supporting this controversial procedure.
Supporting Physician Assisted Death
Recently, there has been a rise in the number of support groups for physician assisted death, such as the World Right to Die Organization. The most prominent support group is the Death with Dignity National Center, whose mission is to “provide an option for dying individuals and to stimulate nationwide improvements in end-of-life care,” according to their website. The objective of support groups is to stand by patients that may be considering physician assisted death or family members who have relatives that are considering it. Support groups also offer information and education to Americans that do not know much about physician assisted death.
“It is possible that some may not understand the distinction between patients dying with self administered medication and a doctor taking action to end a patient’s life,” according to Gallup Analytics.
Controversy of the Word “Suicide”
One of the reasons the issue is becoming more widely accepted is the terminology. Addie Morris, a psychology major at Indiana University, agrees with this. “Because of the more recent use of the terms such as “death with dignity,” the verb has evolved over time into a more accepted concept.” Lately, “death with dignity” or “physician assisted death” is being used over the term “physician assisted suicide,” because of the negative connotation of the word “suicide.” “Americans have historically responded more favorably to “end the patient’s life by some painless means” as opposed to “suicide,” according to Gallup Analytics.
Another issue that surrounds the use of the word “suicide” is religious beliefs. “77 percent of atheists and 73 percent of Jews believe physician assisted “suicide” is morally acceptable, compared to 47 percent of Catholics and 43 percent of Protestants that believe it is morally unacceptable,” according to Gallup Analytics. The change of terminology raises support because the morality of “suicide” is being removed from the debate. “‘Pikuach Nefesh’ is the Hebrew term for ‘saving every life.’ “Physician assisted death gets tricky because in Judaism the idea is that protecting and saving a life is valued over everything. This ideal is often debated on a case by case basis,” said Charlie Kramer of Los Angeles, who is studying to be a Cantor.
Millennials have grown up learning about the pros and cons of physician assisted suicide, which has ultimately affected the overall rise in support. “The percentage of young adults aged 18-34 who support doctor-assisted death climbed 19 points this year, to 81 percent. Young adults are now significantly more likely than older U.S. adults to support doctor assisted suicide,” according to Gallup Analytics. Madeline Ishbia of West Bloomfield, Michigan, said that she grew up learning about the debates surrounding physician assisted death in school. Her education, combined with a personal connection to terminal illness, led her to decide that it depends on the situation. “I think there should be more than one physician that has to sign off on the final decision, but I think people get to the point where they are exhausted, at which point I agree and support it.”
Changing the Experience
Millennials have also experienced watching loved ones suffer. Casey Shanahan of San Francisco, California, also had a personal connection to terminal illnesses. Her grandmother, who ultimately passed away of cancer, was spending her last few days in hospice. Shanahan said that seeing her grandmother in such an awful state was scarring for herself and the rest of her family. “I knew that my grandmother was in pain, and I knew that if she knew how much pain we were in seeing her like that, she would have made the decision to die if it were available to her.” Shanahan and her family agree that if physician assisted death were to have been available, the process would have been less emotionally scarring.