Pubdate: Sun, 11 Nov 2001
Source: Athens Banner-Herald (GA)
Copyright: 2001 Athens Newspapers Inc
Author: Joanna Soto Carabello


To many people the idea of intentionally ending your life is 
incomprehensible. No matter how bad things get or how bleak the future 
appears, there is always the chance for better times.

This mystery seems especially complicated when a suicide victim is young 
and healthy. For people whose lives have so much opportunity and potential, 
it is baffling that they could lose all hope and see nothing worth living 
for. How can their loathing of life possibly overcome the natural fear of 

Whether we understand it or not, it can and does more often than any of us 
care to imagine.

The enigma of suicide is far less complex when the victim is facing the 
prospects of a long and painful death from a terminal illness. Anyone who 
has ever watched a friend or family member slowly drift toward death as 
their body is wracked by disease knows what I'm talking about. When a loved 
one looks at you with pleading eyes and announces with solid conviction 
that they are ready to die, you cannot help but understand.

When someone who is dying wants to commit suicide, it's not because they 
hate life. In fact, most often, it seems these are people who truly 
embraced life and all it had to offer. But, they also realize that there is 
a difference between living and being alive. Living is when your body 
continues to function. Being alive means you can laugh, cry, smile, talk, 
do the activities you like and spend enjoyable time with friends and 
family. If someone has no hope of being alive, if their days are consumed 
with pain and suffering, it's easy to understand why they wouldn't want to 

No decision to take your own life can ever be made lightly. It requires 
deep, personal consideration -- emotionally, physically and morally. We may 
not agree with the decision, but ultimately no one who lives in a healthy 
body can empathize with the reality that a terminally ill patient faces.

The people of one state -- Oregon -- have decided that terminally ill 
individuals should have the right to choose when their life is no longer 
worth living.

Some see it as an endorsement of suicide. I believe it is an empowerment of 
people to have the final say in their future.

If faced with a slow and painful death, I'm not sure I would choose to 
commit suicide, but I wouldn't want to deny that option to anyone who was 
suffering in ways I cannot begin to imagine.

According to an Associated Press article, Oregon's Death With Dignity Act 
allows doctors to provide -- but not administer -- a lethal prescription to 
terminally ill adult state residents. The law also provides safeguards. It 
requires two doctors to agree that the patient has less than six months to 
live, is voluntarily choosing to die and is capable of making health care 

Since taking effect in 1997, the law has allowed at least 70 terminally ill 
people to end their lives. All have done so with a federally controlled 
substance such as a barbiturate.

In a decision announced last week, Attorney General John Ashcroft directed 
federal drug agents to pursue doctors who help terminally ill patients die 
with the use of a federally controlled substance, such as a barbiturate. 
Under the decision, doctors could have their drug prescription licenses 
revoked but not be criminally prosecuted.

According to the Associated Press, Ashcroft said assisted suicide is not a 
"legitimate medical purpose" for prescribing, dispensing or administering 
federally controlled substances. He based his decision on a unanimous 
Supreme Court ruling in May that said there is no exception in federal drug 
laws for the medical use of marijuana to ease pain from cancer, AIDS and 
other illnesses.

Ashcroft's decision struck a nerve for several reasons.

First, there is the issue of state's rights. On two different occasions, 
voters in Oregon voters approved physician-assisted suicide in referendums 
during the 1990s.

In 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that each state had the power to 
decide whether or not to assisted suicide should be allowed. Now, one 
federal officials has decided to block the will of an entire state.

This situation should raise the ire of anyone who is concerned that the 
federal government is gaining too much power -- regardless of where they 
stand on the issue of assisted suicide.

The second problem I have with Ashcroft's decision is its hypocrisy when 
compared to capital punishment.

The government has gone to great lengths to ensure that a convicted 
murderer doesn't die in a cruel and unusual way. In Georgia and dozens of 
other states, we are now executing murderers with a lethal dose of drugs. 
Yet, under Ashcroft's ruling, that same right can't be extended to innocent 
people who can no longer endure the misery and suffering of waiting for 
death to finally arrive.

That is cruel and unusual punishment for someone who is suffering due to no 
fault of their own.
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