by Dustin J. Hankinson
Self-determination is one characteristic that defines human dignity. When a person reaches adulthood, it is expected that they make decisions to live the life they aspire to. Society is based on people taking responsibility for their decisions and lives
If individuals have the right to decide how to live, they also should have the absolute right to decide the manner of their death when faced with an imminent terminal illness. It is a patient’s life, body and mind; therefore, that patient should be the decision-maker in dying.
As a 38-year-old disabled man with a terminal diagnosis of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, I value the expertise of medical professionals. However, I alone reserve my right as the patient to decide which treatments I receive, and I believe that my decisions outweigh those of anyone else regarding my medical care. In a free society, personal choice regarding medical treatment should be a fundamental human right!
For any who would disagree with a fundamental right to choose, I ask a simple question: After a lifetime of taking responsibility for myself and making my own decisions, when death approaches, haven’t I earned the right to decide how I leave the world? If not, what have I earned? A situation where people who hardly know me will decide the experience of my death? How can someone else’s perspective of my life outweigh my right to decide how it ends? Simply put, terminally ill patients should be allowed to choose their own treatment including the sovereign right to death with dignity.
Dustin lives in Missoula, Montana, where he works as a community activist. He has advocated for the rights of persons with disabilities for over a decade and been heavily involved in supporting bills to keep death with dignity legal in Montana.