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.