Progressives Against Medical Assisted Suicide Holds Speak-out

by Joan Cavanagh, Progressives Against Medical Assisted Suicide

Progressives Against Medical Assisted Suicide held a speak-out at the New Haven Free Public Library on October 2nd about legislation allowing doctors to legally prescribe lethal drugs for patients deemed terminally ill. Featured speakers were Anita Cameron, Director for Minority Out-reach at Not Dead Yet, a national, grassroots disability rights group that opposes legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia as deadly forms of discrimination, and Dr. Andre N. Sofair, Professor of Medicine at the Yale School of Medicine and a practitioner of Internal Medicine.

“The people that are wanting this are largely upper-middle-class professional folks and largely white,” said Ms. Cameron. “If you are poor, it’s easier [less expensive] to kill you than give you health care.” Her comprehensive presentation included her mother’s story. She “graduated” from hospice in 2009 and lived actively for 12 more years. In her state (Washington), medical assisted suicide is legal: “All she would have had to do was ask and she’d have been given the medication because she was deemed terminal.”

Dr. Sofair agreed with Cameron that “we doctors are not always as accurate in terms of [terminal] prognosis as we think we are.” Sympathetic to those who fear pain when seriously ill, he said that “this calls for improvements in medical care, palliative care and hospice care when needed,” not assisted suicide. “Purported safeguards” in states where the practice is legal “do not always work” and often do not help people “get the appropriate medical care that they need.”

“For many of us, [these issues] are profoundly personal and, in terms of political and social realities, absolutely terrifying,” said New Haven activist Elaine Kolb, who concluded the program with a spirited full rendition of her acclaimed song, “Not Dead Yet.”

Progressives Against Medical Assisted Suicide was formed by peace, justice, and disability rights activists; advocates for comprehensive, universal health care; and supporters of women’s reproductive rights. They believe that it is time for progressives to understand that state-sanctioned medical assisted suicide is an existential threat to the most vulnerable members of our population.

The program, videotaped by Stanley Heller, can be seen at:
www.youtube.com/watch?v=q44Lyo4utyM (Part 1) and
www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FVy5U77ilw (Part 2).

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.”

In the News — Not Dead Yet and Second Thoughts Connecticut

by Elaine Kolb, Second Thoughts Connecticut

On Dec. 15, I submitted the following testimony to the New Jersey State Senate against a bill to legalize physician assisted suicide in that state:

My name is Elaine M. Kolb, member of Not Dead Yet and Second Thoughts Connecticut, and I am testifying against the assisted suicide bill, S382. Thirty-eight years ago, I was stabbed in the back, resulting in a spinal cord injury. Now, at 65, I am also officially old.

Sixteen years ago, at this time, my partner for eleven years, Patti Deak, was in the hospital. Weakened by chronic bronchitis, asthma, scoliosis, and a life-long neuro-muscular disease, she developed pneumonia and both of her lungs collapsed. Growing up with a disability, which relentlessly became more profound, Patti was told that she should expect to die young. She endured the insults and injuries of a culture which did not recognize her as a full citizen. Her whole life was a struggle for needed equipment, treatments and services. Remember, it was not until 1975, with the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children’s Act, that public schools were required to even begin to attempt to include and teach children with disabilities.

Prejudice against people with disabilities of all ages continues to be extreme, sometimes deadly. Among those of us with long-term, visible disabilities, we share some terrifyingly common horror stories. Family, friends, even perfect strangers will say something like, “Oh, I could NEVER be as strong and brave as you are. If that happened to ME, I’d rather be dead.” Not a compliment. We experience insults, along with every kind of injury.

Patti Deak loved her life and our life together. So, when both lungs collapsed in December 1998, she decided that she was willing to go on a ventilator. Then we had to fight to get to pulmonary rehab at Gaylord Hospital, so she could come home. Sadly, she had further complications and went on hospice care. She died on March 10, 1999. She was forty. Patti Deak lived and died with dignity, with multiple disabilities, using a power wheelchair, hospital bed, Hoyer lift, hearing aids, and a ventilator.

When some non-disabled folks talk about “death with dignity,” they actually mean “death before disability” or “death before Depends.” 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.” We want to live with dignity and the recognition that our lives are beautiful and valuable and meaningful, just as we are.

Extend palliative care, hospice services, and end-of-life counseling. PLEASE do NOT pass assisted suicide in any form, including S382.

[NOTE: A similar bill will be presented again in the next Connecticut legislative session. Please contact your representatives to express your opposition. There will be more details in the February issue of PAR.]