Role for Physician-assisted Suicide in Cancer

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A woman suffering from terminal cancer became the first person to die under the law of physician-assisted suicide in Oregon in 1998. The New England Journal of Medicine states that more than 4,000 doctors have approved of the physician assisted suicide law (The Anguish n.pag.). In just the United States, forty-two percent of people have had a friend or relative suffer from a terminal illness (The right n.pag.).

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Although cancer is the leading cause of death in terminally ill patients, many other illnesses destroy someone’s quality of life. Most treatments for terminally ill patients are long, expensive and leave the patient and family in an intense amount of physical and emotional pain. Assisted suicide is frowned upon by some people, these concerns are usually rooted in religious beliefs. In the United States that practice is legal in Oregon, Vermont, Montana, Washington and California. Patients throughout the US with ALS, terminal cancer and paralysis should have the option to receive a lethal dose of prescription medication to die peacefully.

ALS is a complex disease that sends the patient into a slow cycle of physical suffering. The disease attacks the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Sometimes early stages of ALS are hard to diagnose because the symptoms fatigue, nausea and muscle weakness can be easily diagnosed as other illnesses (Leveneand Parker n.pag.). Assisted suicide would not be optional for someone in early stages of ALS although each patient progresses differently. It usually takes about five years until patients are in the final stage of the disease. Patients who are considering assisted suicide should start planning when to do it in their third or fourth year. Doctor Lorne Zinman of Health Sciences center states ALS has sort of been at the forefront of the physician assisted death debate because of how awful the disease is(Zinman n.pag.). With the progression and severity of this disease other doctors can agree with Zinman that assisted suicide should be an option to patients with ALS.

Physical suffering progresses the later the patient is into the disease. By the final stages patients are usually paralyzed, unable to swallow and breathe on their own. Patients at this stage are usually living off of feeding and breathing tubes. The physical pain arising from complications of the feeding or breathing tube can sometimes cause more pain than the disease itself. Some complications can be UTIr’s, pneumonia and even collapsed lungs (Zinman n.pag). Assisted suicide will benefit the patient before reaching the late stages and prevent him or her from suffering the complications along with ALS. These complications can be treated but include serious side effects. The most commonly used treatment for ALS is Ritalek, which has been connected to liver failure. The patient would therefore have a chance to end the suffering before any painful side effects.

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