Write about 5 pages of original prose using argumentative / persuasive / illustration writing techniques to discuss and/or counter-argue any of essays from our textbook, Models for Writers. You may discuss one particular essay or you may consider a cluster of essays within the same theme. See “Thematic Clusters” in the front of the MFW textbook, xxiii-xxvii.

The Art of Letting Go on Deathbed

If someone we love is suffering so greatly on a hospital bed, in the verge of death, and asking us to be released from the hold of life, which in that moment is just pure pain and suffering, would we have the heart, or the courage, to let the person go on to the next life? Are we the audience in Barbara Hutmann’s essay, who stand ground for the belief that all life is precious and worth fighting for no matter what, and ready to call out on others who believe otherwise, branding them as selfish, or worse, murderers? Or are we, or could be, Barbara Huttman herself, accepting our impotency in the two truths of life that are hard to swallow: death, and “loving is letting go”.

The essay which summarizes Huttman’s experience as a nurse tending to a terminally ill cancer patient, and the dilemma between doing her duty and granting a friend the request of death, give a glimpse of the ethical and legal complexity of mercy killing faced by all healthcare professionals. It is a highly controversial issue that still divides people in the medical institution, government, and typically everyone from all walks of life, but the burden of it all rests squarely on the shoulders of doctors and nurses, whose main duty is to save lives with whatever forms necessary within the boundaries of their Hippocratic code. “Doctors should not kill a patient under any circumstances” (Moreno 30), but any human has a choice, the basic right to govern his life, and if he decides to end it due to worse-than-death state, where all hope of life is null, then no one has the right to take that choice from him. As Huttman implies in her essay, what “right [do we have] to force ‘life’ on a suffering man who had begged for the right to die?” (qtd. in Rosa and Eschholz 345; para. 11). None.

First, let us discuss the word “life”. How do we define it? For a child it is simple. Life is when we eat, drink, laugh, and cry – life is just living, breathing, and going on with the world everyday. As we grow older, it becomes more complex. We begin to look for meaning and worth in this world.  As soon as the fact that there is also death and everyone dies when the time comes, starts to sink in, we begin to panic about the ethereality of life; how short and unpredictable it is. While we understand that death will come knocking, we try to get our mind from it, half-hoping that by doing so we can push it to a later schedule. This is the same reason why others, who are in tremendous pain and suffering, with no way out, having fought and repeatedly lost the will to live, just want to end it all, to find eternal relief. Ethicists call it suicide, but nobody can really know without putting themselves in someone else’s shoes, so what do they really know, if they’re just watching from the sidelines? Life is as each of one knows it. Complexities aside, life is living today and dying someday. As deserving we are to live the life we want, so is the way we want to end it.

Huttman declared that revolutionary breakthroughs in medical technology have made human longevity to what it is now – longer. We have the means, and the knowledge to prolong life. These are expected to be performed on patients, and if they weren’t, the physicians and other healthcare personnel who administer the patient’s need will be held liable by law with the crime of medical malpractice and negligence. The same was stated by Robert Orfali, who seconded that “doctors are trained to heal…. to fight the disease with everything in their arsenal, [without surrendering, hence]…. they would rather initiate another treatment than deal with the existential issue of dying” (47 – 48). Yet how solid is the Hippocratic oath? Is the same code adhered to by physicians remained unchanged through the years? Manning explained that some physicians in history were not even aware of the existence of Hippocratic oath, and those who did even modified or shaped some of its principles on their understanding and the practices they were already doing even before. A physician could assist in abortion or patient suicide without the “risk of moral disapprobation” (8).

To be fair, there are physicians who agree with assisted dying, and some even practice the act, provided it is allowed by law. In the state of Oregon, for instance, aiding patients to die a dignified death is allowed. It’s the same with Switzerland (where Dignitas is located), and some counties in Europe. However, its legalization is still challenged in many ways, and its foundation rocked by divisiveness among policy makers and doctors, themselves. Despite the overwhelming vote of majority to legalize euthanasia, like that of Hawaii, whose 71% in favor and 20% against, the law which will bring this about fails to be passed every year. In the medical establishment, while divisions of the house such as the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA) and the American Medical Students’ Association have adopted policies supporting assisted dying, the hierarchy of the American Medical Association (AMA) itself is firmly against it (Orfali iii).

To battle this stigma and the support of both government and medical laws it enjoys, families of patients who want to die in peace turned to international law of human rights. One example is Tony Nicklinson, who “suffered a stroke in 2005”, leaving almost all of his body paralyzed “and totally dependent on others for his care”. His wife, Jane Nickilson, appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, citing Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (EHCR), which states that “the right to die at the time of one’s choosing engages fundamental common law rights as well as the right to private life”. Tony was allowed to die shortly after the court approved his appeal (Jackson 468 – 9).

If we are faced with the same situation as either Tony Nickilson or his wife, would you do the same thing? Say for instance, one of your loved ones has been suffering too long and the only thing that is keeping him/her is a machine? If Mac’s scenario coincides to what is happening to your loved one, would you have granted death and eternal relief? I would say yes, especially if that loved one requested that of me. As previously mentioned, we have the right to live, and the choice on how we should die is also a basic right that transcends the boundaries of human law and society’s code of morals. What right do the government, Medicare, the AMA, and all institutions possess to control our decisions on how we die, and when, if all comes down to it? At least, a death that is chosen is a “good death”, or at least we have every opportunity to get this kind of death, because we are in control. A “very bad death” in the ICU, repeatedly resuscitated, or a “good death” in the care and surrounded by loved ones – which do we prefer?

In the world that we are living in now, it is very difficult to support an argument if there are no legalities to back it up. Hence, let us try to give justice to the laws as well as the practices that are “legally” done as of present. One is the support of “Dying with Dignity Act”, which is “constructed along the lines of beneficence and non-maleficence” (Butts and Rich 12-13). If the patient, as according to medical professionals who have been looking into his condition, still struggled with “life devoid of value”, and pain and discomfort for the coming weeks or months , without any hope of recovery, is allowed to die, then doing so is “an act of kindness” (beneficent) and prevention of “needless pain and suffering” (non-maleficent). An assumption that given the expertise of the physician, he/she is accurate in his/her prediction, that no such chance of recovery is possible, and if ever the patient survives, he/she will be put in a condition/situation wherein death is more preferable. Added to this assumption, is the fact that the patient does not have the strength or stability, to speak and decide for himself/herself (Kiger 4). To further cement this argument, doctors are actually committing passive euthanasia on patients, and it is legal, as long as it’s not called euthanasia, but referred to as “allowing to or letting die” instead. This is done without the administration of lethal doses of drugs, but by removal of meds or equipment that keep the patient’s life running. The termination is appealed by the  patient himself/herself, in a personal will, and its definition is not “physician-assisted suicide”, but rather, “firing the doctors” and letting go of the patient from the hospital, where expectedly, nature will run its course and the patient will eventually die (Orfali 6).

So what is keeping the laws? If this is just a fight in terms of definition and lexicology, then why not legalize the whole thing once and for all? Why vilify the doctors and nurses, who allowed the patients to die “in the most human way” possible? Every one of us is afraid of suffering, much more so in the end of our lifetime. Nobody wants to be in pain on his deathbed. If we are to die, we will, and no machine, drugs, or medical operation can keep that from happening. We are no God, and the boundaries of what we can do are narrow and limited. As Huttman asked, “Had we, the whole medical community, become so arrogant that we believed in the illusion of salvation through science?” (qtd. in Rosa and Eschholz 345; para. 11). Perhaps we had. Worse, most of us believe that we have the right to life as we want it, but then refuse to apply the same conviction to the issue of death. We have the right to live as much we have the right die the way we want. Anyone who believes otherwise is a hypocrite. We want to be always in control, so what makes it different to have a control on our death as well, if we are lucky enough to be in that situation?


Works Cited

Butts, Janie and Karen Rich. Nursing Ethics: Across the Curriculum and Into Practice. Sudbury,

Massachusetts: Jones & Bartlett, 2005. Print.

Huttman, Barbara. “A Crime of Compassion.” Models For Writers. 11th ed. Eds. Alfred Rosa

and Paul Eschholz. Boston: Bedford /St. Martin’s, 2012. 343-46. Print.

Jackson, Adam. “‘Thou Shalt Not Kill; But Needst Not Strive Officiously To Keep Alive’:

Further Clarification Of The Law Regarding Mercy Killing, Euthanasia And Assisted Suicide.” Journal of Criminal Law 77.6 (2013): 468-475.

Kiger, Alice. “‘Mercy Killing’: When Is It Justified, And What Is The Nurse’s Ethical

Responsibility?.” Obzornik Zdravstvene Nege 49.1 (2015): 4-8.

Manning, Michael. Euthanasia and Physician-assisted Suicide: Killing Or Caring?. New York:

Paulist Press, 1998. Print.

Moreno, Jonathan. Arguing Euthanasia: The Controversy Over Mercy Killing, Assisted Suicide,

And The “Right To Die”. New York: Touchstone, 1995. Print.

Orfali, Robert. Death with Dignity: The Case for Legalizing Physician-Assisted Dying and

Euthanasia. Minneapolis: Mill City Press, Inc., 2011. Print.