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Arguing for the Right to Die

There are high emotions on both sides of the issue

By Emily Gurnon

Should individuals have the right to decide when to end their lives? And should they be able to get a doctor's help to do it?

The issue has been hotly debated nationwide. In 1994, Oregon became the first state to approve a law allowing physicians to prescribe lethal medication for patients who choose it; the patients must take the drugs themselves. The state of Washington followed in 2008. California and Vermont have since passed aid-in-dying measures, and the Montana Supreme Court ruled that state law protected doctors from prosecution.

No such measure exists in New York, but End of Life Choices New York on Feb. 4 filed a lawsuit to establish aid in dying in the state's Supreme Court.

Former U.S. Marine J.J. Hanson and his family are against it. After a sudden seizure nearly two years ago, he was diagnosed with brain cancer and given four months to live. He fought it, through surgery and chemotherapy, and his cancer is now in remission.

"Often, I wonder if I would still be alive if I had the legal assisted suicide drugs at my bedside when I was fighting through those difficult days," he said in a Jan. 11, 2016 op-ed in the Newark, N.J.-based Star-Ledger. "Assisted suicide is a decision that you can’t unmake."


On the other side of the emotional controversy is Eve Eliot, who also lives in New York. She watched her beloved husband die of ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease. Without access to lethal drugs, he chose starvation as a means to end his life.

"He was in this terrible prison and it was his own body," Eliot told CBS News in a recent CBS Sunday Morning segment on the death with dignity debate. "I want people to hear this: If you have not had this kind of experience or been very close to someone who's had this experience, you really can't know. You just can't know."

As part of its report, CBS also interviewed Barbara Coombs Lee of Compassion & Choices, which advocates aid-in-dying laws. (Coombs Lee was selected as one of 50 Next Avenue Influencers in Aging in 2015.) Watch the video below:

Emily Gurnon
Emily Gurnon is the former Senior Content Editor covering health and caregiving for Next Avenue. Her stories include a series of articles on guardianship abuse that was funded by the Journalists in Aging Fellows Program. She previously spent 20 years as an award-winning newspaper reporter in the San Francisco Bay Area and St. Paul. Reach her through her website. Read More
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