Death with Dignity

I have seen multiple deaths in my 3 years of working with elderly residents. Over time, I have learned how to preserve dignity through the dying process. I think death is a sensitive topic for many people, including me. The concept is certainly scary, however I have seen many people that have come to terms with it in the end. I have heard of death with dignity, the ability for those with terminal illnesses to use physician-assisted death, from an ethics class I took my sophomore year at UNE. We had watched a film 60+ minutes long about it, following true cases of some people who had chosen to end their life. I remember one woman had terminal cancer, and was tired of the treatments and related side effects she was experiencing through in an attempt to prolong her life. I had not heard of physician-assisted suicide prior to this. I was emotional while watching this because I couldn’t imagine having a set date to have a family member of my own pass away. I would have a hard time coming to terms with their decision, but would ultimately have to respect that it is their choice and they have suffered enough. I sympathized with those that felt physician-assisted suicide was better than living with the quality of life they had.

Death with dignity does challenge my beliefs of the first ethical principle of nonmaleficence (do not harm) as often times. Usually in healthcare, with the exception of hospice care, the goal is to keep the patient alive and maintain quality of life. The concept of death with dignity seems to be just the opposite of standard healthcare practices. However, the principle of autonomy is also to be considered. Patient’s have the right to make their own decisions regarding their health care. Whether others agree with it or not, the patient has the right to education about death with dignity in collaboration with the physician in order to make a choice they desire. I’m sure this is not an easy one, as they consider their families and the impact it will have on those close to them. I can’t imagine that all members of the family would be supportive immediately of this choice, but may come to terms with it later on. Although it is the nurse’s duty to protect the patient’s safety at all times, the patient’s autonomy and ability to choose the care they receive is also a core principle in health care. Nurses are there to serve the patient and to avoid biases in providing care – whether the nurse agrees with the decisions of the patient or not, they are to do their best to support them in this difficult time. This is especially important for the patient in a time where others, such as family and friends, may not understand or be ready to offer them support.