The Truth About Medical Assisted Suicide

by Joan Cavanagh, member, Second Thoughts CT

Cartoon created by Amy Hasbrouck of Not Dead Yet Canada

“Countries that have enabled euthanasia or assisted suicide have claimed that it has to be totally voluntary, cannot be due to financial or family pressures, cannot be due to untreated or unrecognized depression and cannot be due to untreated, poorly managed pain. They state that, and yet there is no evidence that those are not the major factors driving this.

“What it takes to adhere to those guidelines is incredibly expensive and time-consuming and doesn’t happen. That’s the situation in the Netherlands and Belgium and Canada. All the heartfelt adherence to restrictions that are announced when you first get the public to vote in favor of this go up in smoke once the practice is validated. And it’s always with the talking points that it’s about relief of suffering, that the person, even though he cannot say this, would agree that he would be better off dead.

“Ethically, do I think people should have the right to control the timing of their death? I do. [But] I think it’s dangerous public policy. It’s a dangerous path to go down with the claim that it is all about respect for autonomy, when the real drivers are getting rid of a painful and expensive burden on society…

“There was a recent case in Canada: a guy with neuro-degenerative disorder who was cognitively intact. In order to go home from the hospital, he needed 24-hour care, and the government would not pay for 24-hour care. He recorded hospital staff offering him medical aid in dying as an alternative. You think that doesn’t create pressure on people who already feel like burdens? They need to be met with a resounding commitment to continued relationship. Not: ‘You’re right. I agree you’d be better off dead. Here’s a prescription.’ That pushes someone who is struggling right over the cliff.”

–Excerpt from an interview with Dr. Diane Meier, Director of the Center to Advance Palliative Care, Mt. Sinai Hospital, New York Times Magazine, March 24, 2021.

Please contact your State Representatives and Senators and tell them to vote “NO” on H.B. 6425, “An Act Concerning Aid in Dying for Terminally Ill People.”

The Myopia of Medical Assisted Suicide

by Joan Cavanagh, member, Second Thoughts CT

“In Austin, Texas, at a ‘You Can’t Close America!’ rally, hundreds of demonstrators, nearly all-white, defied social-distancing guidelines by gathering on the steps of the Capitol…A woman wearing a Keep America Great cap waved a sign reading, ‘My Life, My Death, My Choice, Personal Responsibility…‘” [bold emphasis added.]

See Linda Villarosa, “Who Lives? Who Dies? How COVID-19 has revealed the deadly realities of a racially polarized America,” New York Times Magazine, May 3, 2020, p. 50.

“My life, my death, my choice” is the slogan of Compassion and Choices, the national organization devoted to promoting Medical Assisted Suicide (MAS). That it found its way to a Trump-supporting super-spreader event is not surprising, since the implication is that individual behavior has no impact on the lives of others. One of many reasons to oppose MAS is because the premise of these bills is the same.

“Death with dignity” is a phrase often used by MAS proponents, suggesting that the level of care required by many who are disabled, elderly, or very ill somehow demeans them and is a burden on others and on society. This is a fundamental denial of our human connection and responsibility to and for one another.

Even more insidious, Medical Assisted Suicide can easily morph into treatment-rationing for patients whose health care is deemed too expensive for hospitals and insurance companies to sustain. The COVID crisis has dramatically revealed the ways in which poor, disabled, elderly, black and brown people are already discriminated against within the medical system.

Its advocates argue that MAS is intended only for those with a “terminal illness.” But definitions of what is “terminal” are fluid and subjective, life expectancy projections often mistaken. Treatment (or lack thereof) is too often determined by what a patient’s insurance, including Medicare and Medicaid, will and will not cover. Many diseases are “terminal” if left untreated. Allowing doctors to prescribe lethal medication offers a cost-effective “out” for insurers.

While it may provide an individual “choice” for a select few, among its many evils the legalization of Medical Assisted Suicide also opens the door to increased limitations on health care, which is an existential threat to the many. Please tell your state representatives to vote “No” on HB 6425, now pending in the Public Health Committee.

Assisted Suicide? It Depends Where You Stand

by Lisa Blumberg, Second Thoughts Connecticut

It’s déjà vu as the legislature again considers an assisted suicide bill.  How you feel about assisted suicide seems to depend on whether you have always had full access to quality health care or are part of a group that has been subject to health care disparities and devaluation.

Let’s be clear. This is not a patients’ rights bill. People al-ready have the right to refuse any treatment they don’t want.

It does not expand access to palliative care. It does not assure that everyone has the same opportunities for life-saving treatment or in-home care. It certainly does NOT eliminate medical prejudices.

This is a bill that gives doctors immunity for prescribing lethal drugs to certain patients who ask for them, if minimal criteria are met.

The supposed safeguards only apply to the prescribing of drugs rather than their use. We don’t know if a patient is competent when he takes them. We don’t know if he is having “a bad day.” We don’t know anything. We cannot afford to just have faith.

We are living in grim times. The difficulties created by the pandemic have caused domestic abuse to skyrocket. (1) There are bound to be at least some cases where a person is steered or coerced into taking the pills by someone whose life might be emotionally, practically, or financially easier if he died sooner rather than later.

A Boston University study has found that COVID-19 related stressors have caused one out of three adults to be depressed. The lead author wrote. “We would hope that these findings promote creating a society where a robust safety net exists.” (2)

Legalizing assisted suicide would increase the shredding of the social fabric. Now is not the time for the state to enact this type of law.

Lisa Blumberg is a lawyer, writer and disability rights activist. She is a member of Second Thoughts Connecticut.

Footnotes
1. https://www.webmd.com/lung/news/20200818/radiology-study-suggests-horrifying-rise-in-domestic-violence-during-pandemic#1
2. https://www.cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2020/09/ depression-triples-us-adults-amid-covid-19-stressors

Here is a link to an Op-Ed piece by Ms. Blumberg, published in the CT Mirror on Jan. 19, 2021.
https://ctmirror.org/category/ct-viewpoints/separating-myth-and-reality-in-aid-in-dying.

Nine Reasons to Oppose Assisted Suicide: What Progressives Need to Know

by Joan Cavanagh, Second Thoughts CT member

In the February 2019 PAR newsletter, Lisa Blumberg, of Second Thoughts Connecticut, wrote: “Trump wants the Affordable Care Act to implode. Republicans seem willing to swell the ranks of the uninsured and to cut Medicaid funding. There are corporate imperatives to reduce health-care costs even if quality is diminished. Many people are unable to access basic care and minorities, the old and people with disabilities are often subject to medical prejudices or ‘quality of life’ misconceptions. Legalizing doctor-assisted suicide in these times would be akin to taking coals to Newcastle.”

A year later, nothing has changed, only gotten worse. Yet the Public Health Committee of the Connecticut State Legislature is once again poised to consider an “Aid in Dying” (“Assisted Suicide”) bill. The dangers of such legislation should become more and more obvious every day.

Assisted suicide is fraught with peril for the most vulnerable among us–the elderly, disabled and poor, who are already viewed by the medical system and the insurance companies as too costly to treat and thus expendable. There are no imaginable “safeguards” that can change that fact. This legislation would only codify what we have experienced and had to fight in our daily lives—and which has already cost the lives of far too many.

Below are Nine Reasons to Oppose Assisted Suicide.

  1. In our cost-cutting health care system, it encourages the rationing of health care for the most “expensive” patients: the elderly, disabled, seriously ill and poor.
    2. It subjects the vulnerable to potential overt or covert abuse that can never be adequately monitored.
    3. It encourages a rush to judgment as to how “terminal illness” is defined.
    4. It promotes the idea of extreme individualism and self-sufficiency, the notion that being vulnerable and needing care is somehow “undignified,” the idea that we live in a vacuum with no responsibility for or to each other.
    5. It erodes patient confidence in our health care providers, causing justified fear that they will advocate for the suicide option in difficult cases.
    6. It requires doctors to lie about the facts of a patient’s death, citing the illness as the cause, not the ingestion of the lethal medication.
    7. It does not necessarily guarantee a “peaceful” or immediate end of life.
    8. It promotes suicide as an option in a time where suicide among the young is increasing and suicide prevention is public policy.
    9. It opens the door to involuntary euthanasia of those deemed “defective,” such as people with advanced dementia or severe disability that renders them unable to communicate.

For more explanation of these and other reasons to oppose assisted suicide, please go to www.notdeadyet.org and dredf.org/public-policy/assisted suicide.

Progressives and disability rights advocates have a compelling case to make here. We need to voice our opposition loudly and clearly, and to help educate others about the full implications of this legislation so that they will indeed have “second thoughts.”

There is a list of Public Health Committee members at cga.ct.gov. Please write to ask them to withdraw this bill. (It did not yet have a number as this newsletter went to press.)

Joan Cavanagh, a long-time peace and justice activist, is a member of Second Thoughts Connecticut, a bi-partisan organization composed of citizens with disabilities and advocates who oppose the legalization of assisted suicide.

Taking Coals to Newcastle with HB 5898

by Lisa Blumberg, Second Thoughts CT

Trump wants the Affordable Care Act to implode. Republicans seem willing to swell the ranks of the uninsured and to cut Medicaid funding. There are corporate imperatives to reduce healthcare costs even if quality is diminished. Many people are unable to access basic care and minorities, the old and people with disabilities are often subject to medical prejudices or “quality of life” misconceptions. (1) Legalizing doctor assisted suicide in these times would be akin to taking coals to Newcastle.

Let’s not be confused by rhetoric. The bill (HB 5898) that the Connecticut legislature is poised to consider has nothing to do with “aid in dying.” Aid in dying is palliative care to improve the quality of a person’s remaining life. The World Health Organization views such care as a human right. (2)  Doctor assisted suicide would not expand desperately needed access to palliative care or otherwise increase healthcare choices. Patients already have the right to refuse any type of treatment. The bill is not about patients’ rights but about the authority of doctors. It sets forth the circumstances under which a doctor could actively prescribe lethal drugs to directly cause the death of a supposedly willing patient without fear of liability.

Legalized assisted suicide is exploitable by for-profit entities. There have been cases in Oregon of insurers denying payments for new treatments but offering to pay for lethal drugs. (3)

Proponents talk of “safeguards.” Nothing can prevent an erroneous prognosis or keep a vulnerable person from subtly being steered. Since the bill is about permitted medical behavior and not about patient protection, the minimal criteria written into the bill apply only to the prescribing of the lethal drugs, and not to their use. Who is to know if in any particular case the drugs are self-administered or what a person’s mental state is when she decides to swallow the drugs?

We should focus on efforts to reduce healthcare inequities and not on legitimize assisted suicide. As progressives, we need to care.

Lisa Blumberg is a member of Second Thoughts Connecticut, a bi-partisan organization composed of citizens with disabilities and advocates who oppose the legalization of assisted suicide.

Footnotes
1 http://notdeadyet.org/2017/08/anita-cameron-three-big-reasons-black-people-should-join-the-anti-doctor-assisted-suicide-movement.html
2 https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/ palliative-care
3 https://dredf.org/public-policy/assisted-suicide/why-assisted-suicide-must-not-be-legalized

NO to Medically Assisted Suicide

by Joan Cavanagh, Second Thoughts Connecticut

“An Act Providing a Medical Option of Compassionate Aid in Dying for Terminally Ill Adults,” Proposed Bill No. 668, has been referred to the Judiciary Committee for the spring 2015 Connecticut state legislative session. It is being sponsored and promoted by some of our most progressive state legislators, including Gary Holder Winfield, Roland Lemar and Toni Walker.

It is imperative that we as their constituents and supporters on many other initiatives contact them immediately to demand that they withdraw their support for this legislation and work to defeat it.
Last month, Elaine Kolb clearly explained why the disability rights community is so opposed to this legislation. She described her painful fight for the necessary treatment and services to sustain her partner’s life as long as possible: “Patti Deak lived and died with dignity, with multiple disabilities, using a power wheelchair, hospital bed, Hoyer lift, hearing aids, and a ventilator… With cut-backs in so many essential services, the message behind assisted suicide is that death is cost-effective. For those of us in danger of being denied what we need to live, ‘Compassion and Choice’ feels more like ‘Contempt and Coercion’” (emphasis added).

I experienced such contempt and coercion while fighting for treatment for my elderly mother, Catherine (1922-2012), who suffered from vascular dementia and a severe heart condition. As her health care advocate, I was continually and repeatedly harassed, bullied and threatened by various health care professionals at Yale-New Haven Hospital to “let her die.” As a Medicare/Medicaid patient, she was costing them too much and her life was not valued. You can read the details of this experience at http://www.nhregister.com/opinion/20140304/forum-aid-in-dying-bill-neither-compassionate-nor-wise.
All this occurred in a state where medically assisted suicide is not yet legal. Whatever its language, such a bill cannot be tweaked or improved to be made safe or unthreatening to those of us who are physically, mentally and/or emotionally vulnerable. The potential for coercion and abuse, both by a health care system increasingly concerned with profit and, in some cases, by family and friends who are tired of the “burden” of care, is simply too great.

Joan Cavanagh is a member of Second Thoughts Connecticut and a long time peace and justice activist.