Twenty-five years ago, Dr. Jack Kevorkian assisted a 54 year-old Alzheimer’s patient, Janet Adkins, in her own suicide, the first of over 130 assisted suicides that Kevorkian oversaw during his career.  Two days after the death of Adkins, Kevorkian stated that his complicity in the suicide was a display of his cardinal rule in medicine, “personal autonomy.”  Until his death in 2011, Dr. Kevorkian was a fierce proponent of a terminally ill patient’s right to die on his or her own terms. Question 2, or the “Death with Dignity” Initiative, on the 2012 Massachusetts Ballot asks voters to decide if citizens have the same “personal autonomy” in death that all Americans enjoy in life.  If approved by voters, Question 2 “would enact the proposed law allowing a physician licensed in Massachusetts to prescribe medication, at the request of a terminally-ill patient meeting certain conditions, to end that person’s life” and would make Massachusetts the third state to grant citizens autonomy when dealing with death.

Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans would prefer to die at home, around 75% of Americans die in hospitals or nursing homes.  These patients go to hospitals to ease the inevitable suffering of their final days, pain that could be easily avoided through assisted suicide.  The United States, by not allowing terminally ill patients to die on their own accord, is forcing its terminally ill citizens to spend their final days suffering through the excruciating pain of an unwanted life.

This is not to mention the crippling cost of end-of-life care in the United States.  In the fiscal year 2010, the five percent of Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries who died used over $133 billion during their last year of life, around one third of the entire Medicare budget.  Roughly 80% of this $133 billion was spent on aggressive life-sustaining care, such as artificial ventilation.  This does not include the hundreds of billions of dollars spent each year by Americans who are terminally ill and are not covered by Medicare.  American culture seems to encourage the artificial sustainment of life even when many Americans would prefer to die under their own conditions.  Assisted suicide would allow Americans to avoid the enduring pain and high cost that comes with artificially extending a life.

The decision to end one’s life is potentially the most personal choice an individual can make, and the denial of this right suggests that an individual and his or her doctor are less capable of choosing the most beneficial decision for that specific patient than the state is.  When faced with pain and immanent death, no government should have more of a say than the patient in medical decisions.  There are many people who would never consider assisted suicide due to a variety of reasons that range from religious ideology to the ethics of asking a doctor to prescribe death.  The Death with Dignity Act does not impose itself on these people.  The Death with Dignity Act only exists for those who wish to use it.  To prolong the suffering of a terminally ill person for ideological reasons is against everything that America stands for.  The freedom of others to make decisions we disagree with has always been central to American liberty.  Though doctor assisted suicide may not be right for everyone, everyone should have the right to doctor assisted suicide.