This I Believe


by Chuck Ivy - Part 3

I believe in the right to die.

“Well, we’ll all die sometime,” you say, “so we must have the right to die.”

But I believe in more than that. I believe in our right to die with dignity. Our right to die without unbearable pain. Our right to die on our own terms when confronted with terminal illness. Our right to make our own important choices at the end of our lives.

You may think that this right is a fundamental aspect of nature – an inalienable right of all mankind, especially in this land of the free. Yet, it is not. Our right to die with dignity often requires some, mostly limited, assistance by others. For that reason, it is seen to conflict with the duty felt by many healthcare professionals to prolong life at the expense of all else. It also conflicts with some religious teachings that view it as suicide and an unpardonable sin. And, in many places, it is a crime.

Only two states, Oregon and Washington, recognize the right of the terminally ill to limited and qualified assistance in dying. The Oregon law just passed its eleventh anniversary, and during those years, only a very small number of people used the law and the vast majority of them were in hospice care. More people applied for and obtained the right than actually used it, apparently wanting the peace of mind that comes with having some small degree of control over their destiny.

Maybe that’s why the subject is important to me, and maybe that’s why I speak on a subject that is not easily or eagerly discussed. After all these years living, I want the peace of mind of knowing that I will have something to say about how it ends.

Virginia, like many states, allows patients to file “advance directives” with their doctors and hospitals to specify their wishes regarding heroic efforts to revive or resuscitate, and the circumstances for withholding treatment, food and water. While advance directives are a step in the right direction, they fall short of the right to assistance in dying. And, some states and some hospitals owned or run by certain religions, allow their doctors to ignore the patients’ advance directives. Thus, patients and their families can be held hostage to the personal or religious beliefs of others.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not promoting suicide in general. I want to continue to live a good life as long as I can. I have so far not been distressed by getting old, and I am not frightened by the prospect of getting older. And I hope my death comes naturally and peacefully. But, just in case the worst happens, just in case I end up terminally ill, with no hope of recovery, in dreadful pain, and with no quality of life, I will want the right to die on my own terms and with dignity.

This I believe.