My Turn

Opinion: How ‘death with dignity’ bill can change a culture

Regardless of your beliefs, a ‘death with dignity’ bill reframes what it means to be human.

By Amy Bowman, Carson
Posted 3/7/19

I was truly grieved by The Taos News’ coverage of Avis Vermilye’s decision to end her life after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis (Feb. 21, “A Remarkable Life, a Chosen …

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My Turn

Opinion: How ‘death with dignity’ bill can change a culture

Regardless of your beliefs, a ‘death with dignity’ bill reframes what it means to be human.

Posted

I was truly grieved by The Taos News’ coverage of Avis Vermilye’s decision to end her life after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis (Feb. 21, “A Remarkable Life, a Chosen Death”).  She sounds like a woman who impacted many. I wonder how many others she may have inspired if she had lived.

I could explain as an Orthodox Christian how this choice denies our God -given gift to be fully human, how suffering can be salvific (ever heard of saints or martyrs?) and how any so-called pastor who says otherwise is preaching a Christianity on life support. What if Jesus didn’t die on the cross? If he had asked for a cyanide pill in his cup, we wouldn’t be mentioning him now. However, this is a moot point to Taoseños who do not share my beliefs.

Regardless of your beliefs, a “death with dignity” bill reframes what it means to be human. First off, it sends the message that suffering is bad. It may begin with specific end-of-life illnesses but we know this will quickly encompass other kinds of mental and physical ailments. If our life goal becomes self-gratification, suffering becomes subjective to varying perspectives.

A bill like this has potential to create an atmosphere where our most vulnerable citizens are at the least shunned and at worst refused medical treatment or coerced into assisted suicide. There are already states where Medicaid has denied cancer treatment but offered to pay for end-of-life options. How can a community that favors universal health care possibly support this bill? We all know that for-profit groups go to great lengths to save a buck and this bill creates a spectacular loophole.

Who decides what life is worth living? Do we as a culture start to judge those who do not end their life? Are they merely seen as a burden on their families and the state like folks on welfare?

We quickly see that what appears to be about an individual’s choice becomes a slippery slope toward eugenics. What about the medical staff who are forced to be involved in a practice they morally disagree with? The only way to truly make assisted suicide a “private decision” is to leave legislation out entirely.

My grandmother recently died after a long bout of dementia in a nursing home. Some would argue that she had a poor quality of life. Family visited often and one nurse was greatly distressed when she died. She was loved, despite it all.

I implore you to ask yourself what it means to be human. Is it to avoid suffering? Are our lives as disposable as the rest of our consumer culture? If so, why not validate those who have jumped off the Gorge Bridge? Look at the money we could save on suicide prevention.

One woman’s letter claimed that we treat animals with more dignity. Is a doctor telling a family that Mother should be “put down” because treatment costs [are not] dignified?

These are the sort of attitudes a culture gradually accepts after embracing a bill like this. We cannot have a meaningful dialogue about this issue without honestly examining these questions.

Throughout history, those legendary heroes we remember are always those who persevered despite suffering and tribulation. We rarely remember those who just gave up or agreed with an idea that pleased the majority. That is the kind of human being, in God’s image, I am striving to be. How about you?

Amy Bowman lives in Carson.

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