Right to Die

[Content Note: Assisted death.]

I have some disagreements with Professor Stephen Hawking (like the inherent mysteriousness of women, ahem), but we no longer disagree on assisted death, as Professor Hawking has changed his position:
Professor Stephen Hawking, who once said he thought assisted dying was "a great mistake", has changed his stance to support the right of terminally ill people who are suffering to end their lives.

...[I]n an interview with the BBC, Hawking, a cosmologist and theoretical physicist, offered his unqualified support to those who feel their life is no longer tolerable.

"I think those who have a terminal illness and are in great pain should have the right to choose to end their lives and those that help them should be free from prosecution," he said. "We don't let animals suffer, so why humans?"

He is concerned, however, that there must be safeguards to ensure that nobody's life is terminated against their wish. ..."There must be safeguards that the person concerned genuinely wants to end their life and they are not being pressurised into it or have it done without their knowledge or consent..."
To be clear, Hawking had signaled support of legal assisted death previously, but qualified with his belief it was "a great mistake," because: "However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there's life, there is hope."

I'm pleased he's now offering his support without such caveats, even as I understand why he made them, and I also share his concern in prioritizing consent in end of life decisions.

Earlier this year, Vermont because the fourth state in the US, in addition to Oregon, Washington, and Montana, to grant people with terminal illness the right to request an assisted death from doctors.

Opponents of such legislation tend to invoke the usual slippery-slope arguments about coercion and abuse, but the reality is that giving conscious, intellectually competent people the right to make decisions about the ends of their own lives provides fewer opportunities for abuse and more clarity around consent than handing over decision-making against a patient's preferences once that patient can no longer make decisions for hirself.

There are also real concerns about people feeling obliged to make end of life decisions to avoid saddling surviving family with massive medical bills, which is a good argument for socialized healthcare and not a good argument to deny people the right to die with dignity on their own time frame, if that is their wish.

I would certainly like to have this choice available to me, when and if I need it. Like Professor Hawking, I wonder why it is that we extend this kindness to our pets, but remain unwilling to extend it to one another.

If you're interested in learning more about assisted death laws in the US, the documentary How to Die in Oregon is an excellent resource.

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