Opinion: Dignity should accompany death

Robin Piach
"Michigan’s proposed Death with Dignity Act would provide strict regulations, safeguards and would only be applicable to terminally-ill adults."

Dignity is a basic human virtue we all are entitled to. As a social work student at Eastern Michigan University, a mother of three, wife, and appointed caretaker of my senior parents, dignity is a value that I feel strongly about.

We all know at least one adult who is or was terminally ill, and someday it may be you. Remember the person or imagine if you or your loved one had to suffer months and months of hospital stays, pain, pokes, IVs, possibly not being able to eat or keep food down, and loss of strength and bodily control. You are sick, there is no cure and nothing the doctor can do but “make you as comfortable as possible,” which normally means you are so drugged up you don’t know what is going on anyway, and let time take its toll. Is this how you want to live out your remaining days? Is this how you want your family and friends to remember you? Is this a dignified way to die? If you are Michigan resident, right now it is your only option.

Michigan House Bill 4461: The Death with Dignity Act was introduced in March of 2017, and has been referred to the House Committee on Health Policy where it was never acted upon. In the meantime, people suffer needlessly while no movement has been made on a bill that could allow people to make own informed decisions to request prescribed medication to end their lives in a humane and dignified manner. Part of that informed decision is the availability of feasible alternatives, including, but not limited to, comfort care, hospice care and pain control.

According to the Death with Dignity National Center, 7 in 10 Americans support the addition of death with dignity laws in the continuum of end-of-life care, yet very few states have them (California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont and Washington). There are 23 states have proposed legislation under review this year. By supporting legislation like Bill 4461, Michigan can join the other progressive and compassionate states to help better provide autonomy, freedom, peace of mind, and dignity for terminally-ill adults and their end-of-life care.

Michigan’s proposed Death with Dignity Act would have provided strict regulations, safeguards and would only be applicable to terminally ill adults who have been given a life expectancy of fewer than six months. Safeguards will require two separate physicians — one must be the individual’s primary attending physician — to consult and agree that the individual is capable and competent to make such a decision. Only then will the individual become qualified to voluntarily request a self-administered prescription to end his or her life in a dignified manner. The process isn’t immediate either, there is a 15-day waiting period after the initial request. The patient may rescind the request at any time.

What about protection for the physicians? According to Section 18 of the bill: “This act does not authorize a physician or any other person to end a patient's life by lethal injection, mercy killing, or active euthanasia. Actions taken in accordance with this act do not, for any purpose, constitute suicide, assisted suicide, mercy killing, or homicide under the law.”

Lawmakers should revisit the Death with Dignity Act and consider the future pain they could spare Michigan residents.

Robin Piach is a student member of the National Association of Social Workers at Eastern Michigan University.