This year’s assisted suicide bill is finally out and has a number, S. 77. Here’s a link to it. Please, if you have not already, call your senators and ask them to oppose this bill. It is dangerous and unneeded, for the following reasons.
1. It sends a message to people who might be having suicidal thoughts that suicide is OK for some reasons. Oregon’s general suicide rate has increased since legalization there at a rate that is consistent with suicide contagion.
2. It is a recipe for abuse of the elderly, people with disabilities, and the very sick, because no witnesses are required at the time the poison is taken or at the time of death. We are told that many get the poison but never use it. A person like that, who would never have taken it, could be given it without his knowledge, pressured to take it, or even given it by force, perhaps by an heir. Much abuse is financial. The affluent are particularly vulnerable to financial abuse.
3. It does not require a mental health evaluation unless the physician thinks the patient’s judgment is impaired, making the evaluation voluntary on the part of the physician. Remember that both physicians must be supporters of assisted suicide, many of whom believe that depression should not be a disqualifier. A study has shown that as many of 18-25% of the patients using assisted suicide in Oregon had clinical depression which could possibly have been treated.
4. It does not require a palliative care consultation, so patients may commit suicide without exploring the alternatives.
5. Patients who would not have died within six months’ time will certainly be killed. Jeanette Hall of Oregon writes to newspapers about being given a prognosis of a year to live after her cancer diagnosis. Her doctor talked her out of applying for assisted suicide at the six month mark, and she is alive and doing well twelve years later.
6. Legal assisted suicide devalues the lives of people with disabilities and may eventually have a negative impact on their ability to get the costly services they need simply to live. The reasons people give for requesting assisted suicide, such as loss of autonomy, are similar to those people with disabilities live with every day.
7. The poison does not always cause death. several patients have been reported to have lived after taking it in Oregon. Not one chose to take it again. No one asked them why, though several lived long enough to have been able to give an answer. Perhaps the experience was not a pleasant one.
8.Legal assisted suicide is inherently pressuring, especially in a time when cost cutting is the health care topic of the day. Even if it were not, patients of all incomes would feel pressured to commit suicide to save their families the emotional cost of caring for them at the end of life. There is no way to legislate assisted suicide that would eliminate this pressure, which is the anti-thesis of freedom and choice.
9. No one at all needs assistance in suicide. The high rate of unassisted suicide is proof of that. Dr. Ira Byock of Dartmouth Hitchcock told senators last Thursday that any hospice or palliative care patient has the means to suicide at hand, his pain medication. Pain medications are even now the most frequently used means of non-assisted suicide among women in Oregon. Such a suicide would be non-violent, and the family could be there without being accused of assisting, as long as the patient did not tell them. He could call them together (my dying mother did this several times), ask them to stay with him until he fell asleep, take the overdose, and die, taking responsibility for his own action, as he should if this is really his choice.