To end suicide tourism, countries should give citizens a real choice in end-of-life issues, say experts
Any topic related to the word suicide is always a controversial one to write about. Of all the things to write about when it comes to this sensitive issue, the one that really gets people squirming is the word "suicide tourism". Also known as euthanasia tourism, this is the lesser-known but widely committed practice of people traveling to a particular jurisdiction to commit physician-assisted suicide. In some countries, assisted suicide is legal.
CEO of ProCon.org, Kambiz "Kamy" Akhavan, told MEA WorldWide (MEAWW) that seven of the states that made physician-assisted suicide legal did it through legislative action. He also said that six of those states passed their legislation only after 2013. Akhavan added: "Given this trend line and what the Death with Dignity organization identifies as 20 states considering the legalization of physician-assisted suicide, it seems possible that more states will join the eight legal states in authorizing the use of physician aid in dying."
A Gallop poll in 2018 revealed that three out of four adult Americans, a shocking 72%, were in support of laws that allow patients seeking the assistance of a physician in ending their lives. In Switzerland, there is an option to make the choice of going down the route of physician-assisted suicide, or as it is most commonly referred to there: accompanied suicide. It is a well-considered and prepared ending of one's suffering and life by one's own action, a spokesperson for non-profit member society Dignitas - To Live With Dignity - To Die With Dignity told MEAWW.
The term 'assisted suicide' has been used to describe the process referred to as medical aid in dying for terminally ill adults who self-administer prescribed barbiturates if they ever feel like they are undergoing too much suffering. Assisted suicide is very often interchanged with physician-assisted suicide (PAS) and other terms such as physician-assisted dying, physician-assisted death, assisted death and aid in dying.
Assisted suicide is similar to euthanasia, which is sometimes called "mercy killing", but is distinct in its own right. When it comes to euthanasia, there is another party that acts to bring on a person's death to end their suffering. In cases of assisted suicide, a second person is there to provide the necessary means for the individual to voluntarily take their own life, but are not responsible for directly causing the person's death.
Explaining the term further, the spokesperson for Dignitas said: "An accompanied suicide means that the individual wishing to end his or her life must be able to administer the lethal drug (or any other method) by himself or herself. And he or she must have full capacity of judgment. Most important, the person is not left alone but may end his/her life in the presence of next-of-kin and friends. All this after a careful preparation process."
Then there are all the reports of people from across the world traveling to Switzerland in order to go through with accompanied suicide because it is legal in the country, in some capacity. Dignitas, however, has stressed that it is not their aim to have people traveling from across the world to the country in order to undergo accompanied suicide. The spokesperson said that it hopes "that other countries adapt their legal system to implement end-of-life-issues so that citizens have a real choice and do not need to become a 'suicide tourist'."
Assisted suicide as a topic came to the forefront in the US in the 1990s with the infamous case of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who assisted over 40 people in suicide in Michigan. The first assisted suicide he performed was in 1990 of 54-year-old Janet Adkins, a woman who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease in 1989. He was charged with murder but the charges were dropped as there were no laws in Michigan that outlawed suicide or the medical assistance of it.
Many years later, Kevorkian went a step too far from assisting his patient to actively killing the patient himself. He was caught in the act of giving the man a lethal injection on camera, which was aired on 60 Minutes. He was found guilty of second-degree murder and served 8 of his 10 to 25-year sentence.
In the island nation of Australia, the first State to enact a Voluntary Assisted Dying legislation, in just under three weeks from now, is Victoria. A nurse and active member of the Nurses Supporting Voluntary Assisted Dying told us that there is the hope other States in the country will follow suit with similar legislation. She said: "It is a political battle with funding and religion playing a powerful influence- mostly to the detriment of getting legislation passed."
They have also told us that recent polls show that between 85 to 95% of the public have voted in favor of having end-of-life legislation. "Western Australia is currently debating the issue in parliament, Queensland is in the middle of an inquiry into VAD with findings due in November this year. The other States have tried but have been defeated in parliament- New South Wales (NSW) by one vote."
Sean Crowley from Compassion and Choices (US) told MEAWW: "Medical aid in dying is a completely voluntary option for terminally ill adults to peacefully end their suffering. Doctors or healthcare workers do not have to participate in this practice if they object to it. The minority of the population who oppose medical aid in dying should not have the power to deny this option to the majority who want it."
Physician-assisted suicide or "aid in dying" is currently legal in eight states and DC. These include California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Montana, New Jersey (from August 1, 2019), Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. The laws in these states, which excludes Montana because there isn't a law, clearly states that "actions taken in accordance with [the Act] shall not, for any purpose, constitute suicide, assisted suicide, mercy killing or homicide, under the law". This is what separates the legalized act of "medical aid in dying" from the act of suicide.
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