Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Physician-Assisted Dying – Part Three – The Arguments in Favor of Legalization

Can we justify physicians becoming involved in the hastening of a patient’s death? The Supreme Court of Canada thinks so. In a 2015 TED talk, Grace Pastine discusses the issue of physician-assisted dying in Canada. If you have a few minutes, it’s worth watching.

Pastine describes three principles that matter deeply to people with serious medical conditions:

Compassion – Nobody should be forced to suffer horrible, cruel, deaths. When all other avenues have been exhausted, people should be able to die painlessly and with compassion.

Protection – Sometimes people take their own lives prematurely because if they wait too long they lose the means to do so. They can become trapped in their bodies, in an unstoppable dying process. Individuals should be protected from having to make these types of decisions. This also applies to caregivers. They need legal protection in the event that they assist their loved ones to end their lives.

Respect – Every individual should have the right to make personal choices based on their beliefs. They should be free to decide how much suffering to endure and how to say goodbye. And they shouldn’t have to figure out a way to end their own lives. They should be able to utilize the services of a physician so death occurs in a reliable, humane manner.

Legalization plays a role in addition to helping patients die.  Simply knowing that they have this choice brings peace of mind in their final days. My friend Brent lives in the State of Washington, where Death with Dignity laws exist. He is a hospice volunteer and said this:

I estimate that over the years I have had 20 patients who have obtained DWD drugs. Of those patients, only one opted to use the drugs.”

Brent went on to describe his reaction when that patient passed:

My experience with this patient was different, because of communications. I had tried to reach the patient (27-year-old with terminal cancer) to schedule a visit a couple of times in the early part of the week and then got the death notice on Thursday morning. Initially I had a feeling of ‘why didn't he tell me’ - an emotion I had obviously never felt with other patients. I quickly checked that emotion at my door because I realized it was a selfish one. As an independent caregiver I realized his decision must have been a difficult one, and family and friends deserved notification, but I did not.”

In Part Four I’ll give my final thoughts on this issue.

Click here for Physician-Assisted Dying – Part Two – The Arguments Against Legalization

Click here for Physician-Assisted Dying – Part Four – Final Thoughts


  1. Glad you've brought this subject up and have shared your perspectives.

    1. Thanks Darren. As you can tell, it's pretty important to me.

  2. Just wanted to say that I am taking all this in. Don't have any strong opinions on this subject at this point but I do appreciate the topic and all the info.

    1. That's all I can ask, that you take it all in. Thanks for reading.