News sources are reporting with surprise and seeming alarm on the Center for Disease Control’s newly released statistics showing that deaths by suicide in the entire US are on the rise. Why the surprise? It has been common knowledge since the rise of mass media, and even before, that advertising works.
True Dignity has neither the expertise nor the time to analyze the CDC report’s statistics in detail. A few quotes will suffice to paint the picture of our current situation.
“The suicide rate in the United States increased by 24% from 1999 through 2014…among all groups. The increase in suicide rate has been steady since 1999, before which there was a consistent decline since 1986…” (USA Today, April 22, 2016, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/04/22/suicide-rate-rise-us/83284568/).
The USA Today article speculates (which is all anybody can do) that the rise is linked to a poor economy. We at True Dignity cannot fail to note that the rise began just as the economic boom of the 1990s was beginning to wind down, and continued through the fairly affluent 2000s, admittedly rising at a higher rate beginning in 2006, on the brink of the Great Recession (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db241.htm).
Though the economy may well have contributed to this rise, True Dignity calls everyone’s attention to a fact that is being ignored. 1998 was the year in which Oregon became the first state in the nation to put legalized assisted suicide into practice. This happened after a furious and widely publicized public argument between pro-assisted suicide forces and those opposing it, an argument waged in the courts and eventually decided by the US Supreme Court, which allowed it in Oregon but declined to make it a right nationally. 1999 was the first year for which the state of Oregon issued its annual report on its assisted suicide deaths. Ironically, this supposedly neutral government report called assisted suicide by the attractive name given to the law that made it legal: Death with Dignity.
The World Health Organization (http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/resource_media.pdf) has warned the media that 1) “Language that misinforms the public about suicide or normalizes it should be avoided”, and that the media should 2)“Avoid prominent placement and undue repetition of stories about suicide.” Yet, beginning in the period leading up to the implementation of the Oregon law and reaching a climax with Brittany Maynard’s picture on the cover of People, there has been relentless media promotion of suicide, relentless misinformation about laws that allow medical professionals to facilitate deaths of people who could have lived years and that contain virtually no protections against euthanasia or even murder of a person who, believing him or herself to be terminally ill, has obtained a lethal prescription. We have detailed the ways in which the laws allow this to happen so many times that we won’t repeat ourselves here, only urge you to search our topic list.
Bottom line: Compassion and Choices has engaged in an ad campaign, both paid and freely given by the media, and it has been effective. The only thing that should surprise us about the rise in suicide deaths is that it has not been even bigger. We hope that the efforts of many individuals and groups, including ours, have, by calling suicide exactly what the World Health organization has urged the media to call it, “a public health problem”, contributed to that fact, the only silver lining to a terrible cloud hanging over our nation and the world.
Will we be able to hold the line? California has been the only US state to legalize assisted suicide since the Maynard campaign, but legalization is a threat in multiple states. Canada’s highest court has ruled that assisted suicide is a right, and has ordered Parliament to write laws to regulate it.
On October 19, 2015, a NY civil court judge rejected a lawsuit brought by three people who want to be allowed to commit suicide with the help of doctors. These people have illnesses that will probably kill them, but not necessarily within the six month period cited by Oregon, Washington, and Vermont laws as qualifying a patient for help with suicide. One has ALS, with which physicist Stephen Hawking has been living for more than 40 years. Another has AIDS, which can be managed for many years. The third, who has metastatic bladder cancer, may indeed be close to death, but we know that other people given terminal diagnoses by doctors have far outlived their prognoses . Yesterday’s ruling maintains the patient protections afforded by NY’s current law, which makes it a crime to assist in a suicide. The opinion holds that a patient’s civil rights are fully protected by his or her right to decline medical treatment.
Of course the proponents of assisted suicide have announced their intention to appeal.
While this ruling is very good news, two assisted suicide bills remain active in the NY legislature, and Compassion and Choice’s website makes it very clear that New York is the state where proponents of assisted suicide will concentrate their efforts this year.
According to the New York Daily News, the Patients Rights Action Fund, a national group that has long opposed the legalization of assisted suicide, has a new president. He is 34 year old ex-marine JJ Hanson, who worked for NY Democrat governors Eliot Spitzer and David Patterson as Director of Regional Affairs for the mid-Hudson Valley (http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/ex-political-aide-lead-fight-ny-assisted-suicide-article-1.2402442?cid=bitly).
In 2014, Hanson, who is married and has a young son, was diagnosed with glioblastoma, the same cancer Brittany Maynard had. Unlike Maynard, he is fighting his cancer and also fighting to keep assisted suicide “from becoming the social norm”.
Though his work will be national, he has already begun to work against assisted suicide in New York, meeting with the bill’s sponsor and attending a forum sponsored by another state legislator. There are currently two assisted suicide bills active in the New York legislature, and New York is a large and influential state that Compassion and Choices would love to add to its list of conquests. Hanson will be a great asset in stopping that from happening.
A former supporter of assisted suicide, Hanson now believes it is bad for people with serious illness. One reason he gives for this change of opinion, is that assisted suicide has the potential to hinder efforts to find cures by reducing the pool of patients available for clinical trials.
It took a third medical opinion and subsequent surgery, but Hanson, who was originally told by two doctors that he had only a short time to live, is now “managing” his disease. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if brain cancer went the way of AIDS, another disease that used to be considered fatal within a short time and can now be managed, if not cured.
True Dignity is overjoyed to have JJ Hanson on our side.
True Dignity Vermont has posted four times about the risk that patients taking assisted suicide drugs may not experience the peaceful death sold to them by Compassion and Choices. In the article linked below, US News and World Report makes the same point, including the fact that the drug that is often used, Pentobarbitol, is the same one that has resulted in several botched executions.
It is shocking that people in this country are being urged to execute themselves.
“I don’t think many people who are casual supporters of the Death with Dignity movement are aware that there are these sorts of risks,” says Tamara Tabo, head of the Center for Legal Pedagogy at Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University, according to the US News article. She is quoted later in the article saying, “Everyone has a picture that it’s simple, clean, easy, and you fall asleep. That’s unfortunately not always so.”
As the article points out, it’s very difficult to test drugs intended to kill people, and without good test data, it’s difficult to control for all the variables that may impact an individual case. Even under the tightly supervised conditions surrounding the execution of a convicted criminal, there can be unexpected and unwelcome outcomes–so much so that opponents of capital punishment consider the use of such drugs “cruel and unusual punishment”and have worked to block their use. Meanwhile, proponents of assisted suicide paint a falsely rosy picture of the ease of death by prescription, and continue to work to make these drugs more readily available to people who wish to end their lives voluntarily.
True Dignity has posted about this topic before: http://www.truedignity.org/category/not-a-peaceful-death/
We also note that George Eighmey, who told US News and World Report that several of the people in Oregon and/or Washington who woke up after taking the drugs have retaken them, testified before a Vermont Senate Committee in early 2013 that no one who woke up after taking the drugs had chosen to take them again. We wonder why the states involved did not bother to interview all the patients who woke up, to find out what the experience of attempted suicide was really like.
Isn’t consent supposed to be informed? Don’t patients have a right to know they may suffer when they die from assisted suicide?
California Governor Jerry Brown, who was fully informed about the dangers legal assisted suicide presents to literally everybody, rich or poor, abled or disabled, sick or well, young or old, nevertheless signed the state’s assisted suicide bill into law today, saying he did it because he did not think it right to “make it a crime for a dying person to end his life”.
Brown ignored the fact that the bill is not about criminalizing suicide but about lifting the penalties for assisting in suicide, thereby getting medical people, the state, and everyone around a patient involved and creating numerous opportunities for error and abuse, including murder pure and simple, without fear of discovery or punishment.
As a state senator who voted against the bill said, “Let’s call this for what it really is: It’s not death with dignity. This is state-assisted death, physician-assisted death and relative-assisted death.”
Here’s a link to the story in the Los Angeles Times: http://www.latimes.com/local/political/la-me-pc-gov-brown-end-of-life-bill-20151005-story.html.
Brown will have to live with his conscience. We, on the other hand, can be proud and thankful that we had and took the opportunity to fight this with all our hearts. We especially thank those who have worked tirelessly for years, people like the brilliant and tireless Margaret Dore and like John Kelly and all the people from Not Dead Yet, who have never stopped pointing out the loathing of disability that lies behind legal assisted suicide and that makes it deadly for them. There are so many others.
Compassion and Choices’ Barbara Coombs Lee is bragging that 1 in 10 people in the US now lives in a state with legal assisted suicide.
Now is not the time to turn back. We must continue to fight the expansion of assisted suicide and its twin, euthanasia, in the US and the world. We must be tireless in bringing abuse and error to light so that we can repeal the laws that already exist.
True Dignity believes that the time has arrived for us also to begin to form networks of individuals who agree to advocate for each other against the pressures and coercion that no doubt are already leading and certainly will lead to premature and unwanted deaths enabled by these laws.
We are sad, even devastated, today. Tomorrow our unrelenting opposition efforts will continue. There is solace in that.
On Friday, September 11, the California Senate passed an assisted suicide bill, Abx2-15. The Senate had passed another assisted suicide bill; SB-128, in June, but it stalled in the Assembly Health Committee, because several Democrats expressed concerns about how the practice of assisted suicide might exacerbate class, race and disability-related inequalities in the healthcare sphere, and was never brought to the Assembly floor.
This month, Governor Jerry Brown called a special legislative session, to consider how to reduce the expenditures associated with California’s Medicaid program, Medi-Cal. The proponents of the original bill exploited the special session by introducing Abx2-15, which was presented through two committees with different members from those on the committee that had rejected it in the regular sessio . After passage in the Assembly, the Senate bypassed its committee process altogether and sent the bill to the floor in order to pass it by the end of the legislative season.
The legislation, which bars malpractice litigation against doctors who prescribe lethal drugs to “terminally ill” patients , only holds doctors to a good faith standard. It also bars the disclosure of government statistics regarding the use of Abx2-15.
Assisted suicide will now become law in California unless Governor Jerry Brown vetoes it.
We are asking people from every state to contact the governor, using the form here: https://govnews.ca.gov/gov39mail/mail.php. Please ask him not to validate the idea that assisted suicide is an acceptable way to reduce Medi-Cal costs.
Please remember that religious arguments are unnecessary, as the law is bad on its face; such arguments actually hurt our cause, since the proponents of assisted suicide have for a long time sought to marginalize all opposition as purely religious. Remind the governor about the reality of suicide contagion; the Oregon general suicide rate has risen since legalization of assisted suicide at a rate consistent with such contagion. Remind him that the reasons Oregonians give for committing assisted suicide tend to be existential concerns related to the onset of disability in the course of a terminal illness; the top five reasons they give are loss of autonomy, “dignity,” or control over one’s bodily functions, inability to engage in activities and feeling like a burden on loved ones. Tell him that the law provides no way for the government to oversee its implementation after lethal medication is obtained; no witnesses are required at the time of ingestion. Remind him about people like Barbara Wagner and Randy Stroup, Oregon Medicaid recipients who were denied chemotherapy coverage and offered assisted suicide instead; after they went public the state stopped writing letters offering such alternatives, but it did not stop denying coverage for treatment and offering coverage for assisted suicide, thus steering people in the direction of the latter. Remind the governor of people like Jeanette Hall, who requested lethal drugs from a doctor, was persuaded to obtain treatment instead, and is alive sixteen years later; ask the governor not to validate a policy with the potential to eliminate years of someone’s life. Lastly, please remind him that two CA court judges ruled that assisted suicide is not a fundamental liberty interest; the state has an interest in protecting vulnerable people from abuse and in preventing suicide contagion.
The good news, about which we should also remind Governor Brown, is that the British Parliament overwhelmingly rejected an assisted suicide bill on the same day the California Senate passed one. Please remind Governor Brown about this decision and of the fact that in the last year, ten state legislatures have rejected assisted suicide.
Ask Governor Brown to have the wisdom and courage to reject a law that is unlike other laws in that the error and abuse it cannot possibly prevent will not be remediable, because the affected people will be dead.
Please take the time to do this. What happens in California will affect people all over the US and the world. You can make a difference.