Brittany Maynard's assisted suicide: A death with dignity

Ritu Singh

"The world is a beautiful place, travel has been my greatest teacher, my close friends and folks are the greatest givers. I even have a ring of support around my bed as I type... Goodbye world. Spread good energy. Pay it forward!"

These were the last words of Brittany Maynard whose death sparked a world wide debate about physician-assisted suicide. The 29 year old American woman ended her life by swallowing lethal drugs made available under the Oregon law.

“She died as she intended — peacefully in her bedroom, in the arms of her loved ones,” said Sean Crowley, a spokesman for the advocacy group Compassion & Choices.

So what exactly is assisted suicide and is it right or wrong?

Suicide committed with the aid of another person (mostly a physician) is often referred to as assisted suicide. It should be noted that physician-assisted suicide is not synonymous to euthanasia (mercy killing). In cases of euthanasia the physician administers the means of death, usually a lethal drug. Physician-assisted suicide is always with the consent of the doctor and at the request of the patient since he or she self-administers the means of death.

Oregon was the first U.S. state to make it legal for a doctor to prescribe a life-ending drug to a terminally ill patient of sound mind who makes the choice. The patient must swallow the drug without help; it is illegal for a doctor to administer it.

There are four other states in America- Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico who allow patients to seek aid in dying.

Since its inception, assisted suicide has triggered intense moral and social debate.

The people and organisation who support this, claim that all individuals have a right to choose the destination of their lives freely given that they don't cause harm to other fellow beings. So this right to free choice also includes the right to end one's life whenever one decides.

In case of an acute disease or injury, the wishes of such people who suffer immensely and want to die in a dignified manner must be respected. There are thousands of people across the globe who live in excruciating painful conditions due to terminal illnesses and are incapable of normal functioning. In the hopes that they will get better, the families of such people refuse to give up on them but deep down they know what lies ahead - more suffering, trauma and damage.

Opposition to assisted suicide also have been in plenty. Those who oppose it argue that society has a moral duty to protect and preserve life. Society should protect life rather than sanction laws to annihilate it and the sanctity of life should be maintained.

But in the face of acute suffering and watching one's life disintegrate slowly, isn't it time that we really give it a thought? Shouldn't such patients be given the right to decide for themselves rather than depend on social sanction?