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.