Nevada a candidate for death with dignity act |

Nevada a candidate for death with dignity act

Lahontan Valley News

The release of Dr. Jack Kevorkian from prison on charges of murder, stemming from assisting in the death of a terminally ill patient nine years ago, is bound to spark a renewed debate about physician-assisted suicide in this country.

It is a debate that needs to happen, if nothing else, for the sake of the thousands of Americans suffering from the pain, suffering and helplessness of terminal diseases.

Kevorkian admitted participating in up to 130 physician-assisted suicides before he was finally arrested, tried and convicted of administering a lethal dose of drugs to Thomas Youk, who suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Kevorkian forced the government’s hand by filming the episode and giving the videotape to “60 Minutes” for broadcast to a national television audience.

Kevorkian served eight years in prison on a charge of second-degree murder. Released last week, he remains an outspoken activist for physician-assisted suicide.

Good for him.

Kevorkian obviously showed more compassion for his patients than church leaders and government officials who have helped prolong incomprehensible suffering by denying these people sovereignty over their own bodies, let alone a humane death. This is tantamount to torture, and pushes hopelessly sick people further into the pits of pain, suffering, humiliation and despair. This is a situation reminiscent to conditions that precipitated back-alley abortions before the Supreme Court ended that insanity with its landmark decision in Roe vs. Wade.

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Death with dignity advocates face an uphill battle, as they have found in several states that voted down proposed laws legalizing physician-assisted suicide. They have formidable opponents in the Bush Administration, the right wing of the Republican party, the Catholic Church and a medical industry with a strong economic incentive to keep individuals hanging on for as long as possible. The good news is the majority of Americans, according to a recent poll, favor the right of terminally ill patients to end their own lives under certain circumstances with the assistance of a medical doctor. Oregon has passed a death with dignity law, and, who knows, with Kevorkian on the loose and serving as a catalyst, perhaps others will follow.

It is surprising that Nevada, which is known for its strong libertarian culture, has never had any meaningful debate over physician-assisted suicide. Considered by many the epicenter of personal liberty, the Silver State would seem fertile ground for giving terminally ill patients the right to choose the time and manner of their death.

• This editorial appeared in the Lahontan Valley News