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When I’m Dying, Let Me Kill Myself | Tom O'Hara

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When I’m Dying, Let Me Kill Myself | Tom O'Hara

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When I’m Dying, Let Me Kill Myself
Thursday, August 16, 2012 — Tom O'Hara

I read in the New York Times recently that the U.S. is facing a terrible shortage of doctors, partly because people like me are getting old and sick.

"We end up spending about a third of our overall health care resources in the last year of life," Dr. Jonathan Bergman of the University of California in Los Angeles told Reuters news service in 2010.

That same year, “Medicare paid $55 billion just for doctor and hospital bills during the last two months of patients' lives,” according to a 60 Minutes broadcast.

So, I’m offering to do my little part to alleviate the doctor shortage and the money crisis. If the government would let me, I’d be happy to kill myself – or better yet authorize a professional to do it -- as soon as a doctor I trust tells me I’m terminally ill.

I hate the thought of pointless pain and adult diapers. I’ve had a heart attack, bypass surgery and a couple kinds of cancer so I know about pain. But in each case, the doctors were certain they could repair me, so the pain made sense.

I know euthanasia (telling someone to inject you with the lethal drugs) and assisted suicide (taking the lethal drugs a doctor provided) are surrounded on all sides by slippery slopes. Opponents correctly point out that greedy kids or cocky doctors might pressure or dupe a dying person into making an early exit.

I know that any piece of legislation, no matter how carefully crafted, can’t address every contingency that might arise when a dying person contemplates euthanasia.

But I do know that families, friends, medical professionals and euthanasia organizations already are helping suffering people take control of their deaths.

Several European countries -- Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands -- allow active euthanasia. In 2011, 84 percent of Swiss voters opposed any ban on access to assisted suicide and 78 percent opposed banning foreigners access to such services. 

Why are the Europeans always so much more rational about social issues like this? 

Even in the United States, the practice is legal in Oregon, Washington and Montana – though there are tough restrictions that would prevent me from rushing there to get the help I will want when I’m dying. 

I have no doubt that euthanasia and assisted suicide will become increasingly accepted in the U.S. in the decades ahead. Florida’s leaders could make a trying time for its elderly citizens a little less traumatic if they would at least adopt the euthanasia laws passed out West. 

I really wish politicians would hurry up. I’m running out of time.

I know that when a doctor tells me “time’s up,” that my family will do all they can to keep me comfortable. But even if I’m doped up and pain free, I really don’t want to endure those months of wasting away and having photos taken while you lie in bed and muster a wane smile for everyone. 

I would much prefer to spend a few weeks getting things organized and saying my goodbyes. Then I want to take control of the dying. 

It’s my life. It’s my body. If I want to spare myself and those I love months of useless pain and sadness, then I should be allowed to kill myself without a lot of legal debate and secrecy.

And I’ll get the satisfaction of knowing that I’ve saved the taxpayers a nice piece of change. 

A former managing editor of The Palm Beach Post and Cleveland Plain Dealer, Tom O'Hara is a national columnist for Florida Voices.

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