Recently, the Commission on Assisted Dying confirmed assisted death could be offered to people who are terminally ill, provided they are over 18 and suggested to have less than one year to live. Qualifying individuals would be considered competent in making a voluntary choice of their own, rather than considered to be mentally impaired or unstable in any way. Unsurprisingly, some reports and individuals have declared the legislation an attack against disabled people, whilst others, such as the British Humanist Association, find it to be most ethical. All commissioners, except one, agreed with legalisation and many of them had close ties to research and charitable organisations that support individuals with terminal illnesses. It seems in both cases, debates for or against the legislation have very valid points to make.
The issue of assisted death is one of the most difficult and compelling issues of human nature verses nurture (i.e. an ongoing scientific debate that considers whether human behaviour is acquired from our genetics or from personal experiences). Although it is hard to pin-point exactly what shapes an individual’s behaviour, it is most certainly an interaction between ones genetics and the environment.
In this case, arguments regarding ethical rights, medical duties and the consequences of one’s actions are in the forefront of the assisted death debate. That is, is choosing assisted death a selfish act? Does it matter if it is a selfish act if someone is suffering? Is it more or less ethical to do? Is it harmful in any way? Is it a contradiction to medical oaths and declarations? The answer can get quite complicated when one is considering life and loved ones.
Which ever side of the debate one is on, legislation supporting assisted death forces “us,” medical professionals, sufferers, awareness advocates and the general public to examine some core values of medical care and government policy. Moreover, it reminds us, healthy or ill, to take some time to appreciate today and be present in the moment that you are living in right now. There is always something to cherish. Live for today. Inspire hope for tomorrow.
Some research and articles that may be of interest:
The New England Journal of Medicine
The Hastings Center Report