With the April 8 signing of Hawaii’s assisted suicide (AS) law, AS is now legal in 6 US states and the District of Columbia.
Since Oregon first legalized AS in 1997, it has taken well-funded, determined, and persistent proponents 21 years of hard fighting to get 6 new legalizations. We should not forget that, thanks to its less well funded but equally persistent and determined opponents, the movement to legalize assisted suicide has experienced more defeats than victories.
In 2017 23 states defeated assisted suicide bills (https://www.hawaiifamilyforum.org/23-states-defeat-assisted-suicide-2017/). Indeed, in October of 2017, the Washington Post reported that “Legalizing Assisted Suicide Has Stalled at Every Level” https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/paloma/the-health-202/2017/10/24/the-health-202-legalizing-assisted-suicide-has-stalled-at-every-level/59ee109330fb045cba000973/?utm_term=.7a4690df0e12,
In 2018, so far, the big and liberal states of CT, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin have defeated assisted suicide bills.
In the meantime, some good news is that since 1997 ten states have enacted new laws banning assisted suicide, including AS.See the map at the following link: https://lozierinstitute.org/map-assisted-suicide-in-the-states/.
We can take comfort from the fact that there has not been a tsunami of AS legalizations, and that there has been real and effective push back. We should congratulate the many people who have worked so hard to keep that from happening, using the tool of reasoned argument. Reason tells us that laws requiring people to tell doctors they want to commit suicide in order to get lethal doses of barbiturates along with instructions and other drugs to use with them to bring about death will result in premature deaths of people against their truly free consent, at best. Reason tells us that every existing law’s requirement that death certificates be falsified to conceal suicide and every existing law’s failure to require witnesses at the time the poison is ingested will enable murder with impunity at worst.
Still, the proponents are well-funded, determined and persistent. They always come back. Their modus operandi is to tell sad stories that mask the utilitarianism behind them. For example, at a committee hearing in NY in 2016, we heard a now-retired state legislator tell the story of how her mother starved herself to death; she wanted to die rather than live in a nursing home, where the daughter said she had to put her after finding that home nursing aides were unreliable. How dare, she asked, did doctors or laws force her mother to stop eating and drinking in order to die, when she could have gotten what she wanted more quickly from AS? Why could she not have what the daughter admitted she only might have wanted, because she never asked for AS? The mother had said she wanted to die rather than live in a nursing home; not living in a nursing home was her choice. Why wasn’t her daughter arguing passionately for better home care or more family leave time? Wouldn’t that have been the reasonable thing to do? This woman’s speech was a classic example of post-reason thinking: utilitarianism (avoiding the trouble and expense of caring for a person at home) barely concealed to the thinker and others under sentimentality. Furthermore this woman was furious, at her mother’s doctor who tried to persuade her to accept tube feeding, and at the opponents of AS among NY legislators and the crowd of professional and grass-roots lobbyists at the hearing. Utilitarian sentimentality morphs quickly into overt hostility when confronted with any argument exposing this type of thinking for what it is. Utilitarians’ no-holds- barred anger seems aimed at creating an environment in which no dissent will be tolerated, in the name of providing a “choice” that actually destroys real choice.
It is disturbing that cultural resistance to AS sometimes appears to be breaking down. The secrecy of assisted suicide laws makes it impossible to discover abuse. Reason tells us that this secrecy also gives the lie to the assertions that there have been no abuses, an assertion that lies behind this spotty breakdown of resistance (http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2018/03/09/aid-in-dying-gains-momentum-as-erstwhile-opponents-change-their-minds).
In Vermont, it took many tries over many legislative sessions, over more than a decade, to legalize assisted suicide. The year it was legalized, 2013, legislators told True Dignity that they received many fewer letters of opposition than in the previous session, two years earlier. If we let fatigue, facile optimism inspired by our victories, and the false sense of security purposely created by the structure of existing and proposed laws stop us from fighting, the tsunami that has not happened still can.
At this point, after the victories in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin, and the defeat in Hawaii, bills that would legalize PAS are active in 16 states: http://www.patientsrightscouncil.org/site/2018-doctor-prescribed-suicide-bills-proposed-or-carried-over-from-2017/.
We have to continue fighting these initiatives with reasoned, civil letters to the editor, written and personal testimony to legislatures, and attendance at hearings and public meetings. True Dignity recently missed alerting its readers to some opportunities for action, and we will try to do better from now on. Readers are urged to search the internet regularly for opportunities. Don’t hesitate to cross state lines; this affects us all.
Those of us living in states where AS is already legal need to be alert to any evidence of abuse that can get through the veil of secrecy; in Oregon, hints (but only hints)have emerged from personal experiences and a couple of news stories. True Dignity is anxious to report on these. We can be contacted via our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/TrueDignityVT/) or by emailing us at [email protected]