by McKayla Skinner
Two years ago, my Grandmother passed away due to Alzheimer’s. In her final months, she chose to embrace life even though she had persistent health challenges. Something that once was a fear for her became realized, and she decided to not let it impede her joy. Her example left a legacy of courage for her posterity, she showed us not only how to live courageously but also how to die courageously. When I feel down on hope, I remember that she did not give up.
At an increasing rate, state legislatures across the United States are debating controversial bills on physician assisted suicide (PAS). For example, in Utah currently, HB76 the End of Life Options Act was aimed to promote PAS. In short, PAS permits doctors to prescribe a lethal amount of medication to end a patient’s life by overdose. To pass legislation that permits this would be a telling prognosis about the course of our culture; one that is beginning to care more about comfort and less about life.
Some proponents of PAS believe that it will not affect the doctor patient relationship, that by ending life early, individuals will be less of a burden on their family and friends, and that promoting PAS does not affect society. However, research has shown otherwise.
The relationship of trust between the doctor and the patient is being adversely affected by PAS. This because some patients fear that they might be “steered toward assisted suicide.” Conversely, some patients find their care is much better and that their dignity is preserved when they choose palliative care, or care from doctors who oppose PAS. This highlights the real need patients have, which is an increase in the number of available palliative care doctors, who improve their quality of life and respect their choice to live.
The relationship between patient, family, and caregivers, can become strained emotionally and financially with PAS. An example of this involved a woman who was battling cancer, and who was considering PAS. Although her caregiver and friends promised to support her decision, they were relieved when she ultimately decided against it. It was only after she decided not to proceed with PAS that she learned of their reservations about PAS and relief that she did not go through with it.
Planned suicides hurt families and can inhibit financial planning. Almost all life insurance policies have a suicide clause, where if a suicide is completed within two years or earlier of opening a policy, insurance companies may deny benefits to beneficiaries. Additionally, the contestability clause does much the same, that if one is not honest about previous medical history, and dies within the two year period, the insurance company can investigate and deny some or all of the claim. With this in mind, PAS is not different from traditional suicide, and policies will most likely not pay out to beneficiaries.
This policy does not just affect the family, but also affects culture. The risk of suicide goes up for each witness of suicide, with witnesses being “four times more likely” to act on suicidal behaviors, compared to those not exposed (Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry). This has a desensitizing effect that may unintentionally numb a witness. Yet, this continues to be a concern for states, as states like Utah try to figure out why the suicide rate between “10 and 17 year old’s… has nearly tripled since 2007.” Currently, the death toll is at “557 people a year” or “21.1 per 100,000 persons” with most being in the stated age group. There is still much to be discovered in this area. Yet, how can it be, when some states attempt to hide the true statistics of the cause of death from the public?
Even years after an ancestor has died, their words and lives continue to speak through their records. Their records tell the posterity not only who they are, but what they can hope for, and aspire to overcome. My Grandmother gave hope to me. Nothing can replace the last gift of her life, the valuable lessons about reconciliation and healing that I may not have had, had she not had that trial and had my family not responded to care for her as they did. Nothing can replace the love and unity that was felt for her and between all her posterity. She was loved, and she is remembered.
She left a legacy.