What is Death With Dignity?

Image: Simon Cocks  http://bit.ly/1FHY8Rd
Image: Simon Cocks http://bit.ly/1FHY8Rd

California woman Brittany Maynard’s decision to end her own life has recently been reported on from far and wide and has become the focus of many heated discussions and debates.

#brittanymaynard has been trending on Twitter in recent days, with the outpouring of support for young Brittany appearing to be phenomenal.

For the 29-year-old terminally ill cancer patient, death with dignity (DWD) is the only option. Though her body is healthy, her brain is decaying and unfortunately radiation and chemotherapy will not have the desired effects.

Brittany will end her life on November 1 2014, leaving behind a loving husband and all hopes and prospects of starting a family.

In America, only three states allow for DWD, Oregon, Washington and Vermont, forcing Brittany and her husband to relocate from their Californian home and move to Oregon.

Oregon, one of five states in the United States in which assisted patients are permitted to die with dignity.

What needs to be made clear is the difference between the method Brittany has chosen and other means including the controversial ‘euthanasia’.

There is a clear differentiation between euthanasia and DWD as euthanasia is viewed as the illegal, deliberate ending of one’s life.

Euthanasia falls under various headings including assisted suicide, voluntary euthanasia, non-voluntary euthanasia, and physician assisted suicide.

Contrary to this, DWD involves a doctor prescribing a lethal dosage of medication for the patient to take when and where he/she likes.

DWD is governed by several rules including:

1. The patient must be an adult.
2. The patient must be terminally ill.
3. The patient must have less than six months to live.

The patient must also put in two verbal requests to the doctor, 15 days apart, proving to them that the choice made was not a spur of the moment decision and has been thought through carefully and deliberately. A written request, recorded in the presence of witnesses, is also required.

Currently there are no laws relating to DWD in Ireland. However, in 1993, Ireland criminalised euthanasia and assisted suicide under the Criminal Law (Suicide) Act 1993 by setting in stone that it is an offence to aid, assist, advice or secure the suicide of another person.

Under Irish law, an individual in breach of this law could face a maximum of 14 years imprisonment.

Brittany set up a blog in which she explained the reasoning behind her method stating, “I quickly decided that death with dignity was the best option for me and my family… I am not suicidal… I want to die on my own terms..”.

Contributor, Orla Stafford, spoke to students about whether or not Ireland should follow suit and introduce a DWD law.

Megan   Megan, Wexford:“I think it’s more ok in America than it is here, their culture is a lot more accepting. Our country is very much run by the church so there would be a lot of uproar and our country wouldn’t be able to deal with it. I think it’s ok to do in some circumstances though you would need a second opinion sort- of-thing. It’s your right and you should be able to decide what you want to do.”

Gabrielle Gabrielle, Dublin: “I’m generally very opinionated but I will change my opinion if there are sufficient facts. One thing I’ve never been able to pinpoint my opinion on for sure is euthanasia or in this case, death with dignity. No life should be ended prematurely but at the same time this person is suffering and it is an end to their suffering. I do definitely think if it was brought to Ireland it would cause massive uproar.”

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