In a world where early-age death is too common, we usually find any means possible to prolong our inevitable departure, but have you heard of an instance where someone wishes to do the exact opposite? Welcome to the concept of euthanasia, a phenomenon of “intentionally ending a life in order to relieve pain and suffering.” However, in this specific case, we’re going to analyze a special case of euthanasia, the End of Life Option Act. The End of Life Option Act is a California law that permits terminally ill adult patients with capacity to make medical decisions to be prescribed an aid-in-dying medication if certain conditions are met. This is contingent upon the request being made solely and directly by the patient to the attending physician, and cannot be made on behalf of the patient through a power of attorney, an advance health care directive, a conservator, health care agent, surrogate, or any other legally recognized health care decision maker.
The practice of euthanasia is not a new phenomenon, as it has been around since the early 20th century. Although Belgium legalized euthanasia in 2002 for patients who are in “constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering that cannot be alleviated”, it just lifted its age restrictions. Therefore, adults and now children, in Belgium, are now capable of carrying through the process of euthanasia at their own discretion. However, in the United States, there are only 5 states that have legalized this procedure for adults. The most recent addition, California, has raised concerns on its pathway to legalization. Governor Jerry Brown implemented a “legislative extraordinary session” in which the bill would not be ratified until 90 days after the session was over. Although there are no issues of foul play, one must consider the subtleness of the entire process and the lack of coverage of such an important issue. It is, literally, a matter of life and death, yet no one had a clue this bill had passed until June 9th, 2016, the birth of the End of Life Option Act.
The bill proposes concrete requirements of obtaining approval for euthanasia: the main requirement is ensuring the patient has at least two doctors to agree that they have a life expectancy of around 6 months. Furthermore, there are some additional precautions required in order to maintain the consistency of the patient’s wish to end their life. This includes the requirement that the patient swallow the prescribed medication themselves and also have it in writing that they will do so, a few days prior to the actual day itself. Taking these steps are crucial to the legality of the patient’s actions and the safety of the physicians who are partaking in their life-ending quest. Although the bill itself is clear, regarding its requirements, we are all still aware of the ambiguity in its morality concerning the issue of euthanasia, a crucial matter to consider in regards to the U.S. legal system.
The question often posed to medical professionals is the following: “As a fellow human being, do you have the authority to promote the death of a sickly individual?” In the minds of a few, a doctor who agrees to assist these individuals are a saint for relieving them from their suffering. For others, the physician is viewed as an accomplice to the “suicide” of the human being. Morality comes into question because the concept of euthanasia is directly correlated to our human rights. This topical debate has stirred a commotion amongst medical professionals in the state of California, to the extent that a group of physicians in Riverside, California petitioned the court to put the bill on hold by way of injunction. In a bid to rid the state of this controversial act, the plaintiff physicians claimed that this bill was a way for families to avoid large medical bills, evade the consequences of lacking insurance, and argued the unconstitutionality of the act as a whole. The court failed to suspend the bill and the End of Life Option Act is still under heavy fire, as of late. One can only imagine the amount of further litigation that will ensue in the coming months.
As humans, we are inevitably biased and hypocritical in many circumstances. For example, if we see an animal in agony or in extreme pain that will eventually lead to its death, we might find ourselves morally obligated to end the misery of that animal immediately. When you substitute a human being in this situation, we are left with a completely contrasting perspective. Instead of being seen as heroic and humane, as in the case with a suffering animal, one is subject to being labeled as a barbaric individual with disregard to morality. A woman by the name of Elizabeth Wallner, a patient with Stage 4 colon cancer, attended the aforementioned Riverside hearing and cried tears of joy when the judge refused to suspend the bill. She stated, “I want to have the ability to control the end of life and protect my child from watching me be tortured to death… It just gave me an immeasurable sense of peace.” We have the capability of allowing an individual to depart from their earthly life in a matter that they find soothing and relaxing. The real question remains: do we have the earthly right to take another individual’s life? Or, better yet, do we have the earthly right to revoke an individual’s own personal pursuit of happiness?