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Posted by on Mar 29, 2016 in Dying, Passages, Physician Aid in Dying, Society | 16 comments

Physician Aid in Dying/Physician Assisted Suicide: You say tomato I say tomahto

opposing faces

You say Tomato I say Tomahto
by Kim Mooney

It’s called Physician Aid in Dying if you support it. Physician Assisted Suicide if you don’t. The arguments start right there, with the name. All of the words around this issue are loaded. Both ‘sides’ have claimed to understand what dignity means for every one of us, even though no one called me.

There are at least 15 states that have said the words out loud and are in various stages of trying to win public opinion and get ‘something’ through their legislatures. So far, all five states where PAD is legal have basically the same requirements: A terminally-ill adult patient must request medication on separate occasions, be capable of making their own rational decisions, and be able to take the drug themselves.

But from there on, it’s idiocyncratic and a more complex issue with far-reaching implications beyond ‘who owns your death’. In Canada, it is often called euthanasia, a word sure to start fires down here. In Switzerland, you don’t have to have a terminal diagnosis to apply, just intractable pain and suffering (just?). In some places, the stretch is whether non-terminally ill people have the right to consideration too. In other countries, the physician must legally administer the drug and stay with the patient; here, the physician prescribes the medication but the patient must take it by hand. So a person who cannot take the drug themselves because they are paralyzed will have waited too long.

In all places, there is fear that marginalized and vulnerable populations will be pushed toward ‘getting out of the way’. But when people cry out that it’s a slippery slope, I can only answer ‘what isn’t’? Surely the original intention of life-sustaining medical procedures wasn’t to inflict torture on bodies trying to die at their natural time. Let’s face it: life is a slippery slope.

It’s important we understand our obligations to individuals and to society and learn what is required to see that the laws we craft – as they are actually written – really serve. The implications of this social/political/human issue will, I believe, affect the lives of every one of us. And it will change medicine forever.

Kim Mooney has worked over two decades as a certified Thanatologist (student of death) in the field of dying, death, and grief with hospices and a variety of different communities. Through her company, Practically Dying, LLC, Kim’s offerings provide death education, guidance to complete effective advance care planning, and grief and loss support, with a view toward remembering that everything we learn about death teaches us how to live every precious day of our lives with more awareness and gratitude. Facebook page Practically Dying