“Death with Dignity is a way to give people with terminal diseases who know that their life is going to end in the next three or four weeks a choice of suffering in great pain, or finding a way to end that suffering.”
Governor Peter Shumlin in an August 11, 2011 press conterence
“It isn’t people who are in extraordinary pain that makes (sic) this choice. It’s people who in the very last weeks of their lives that absolutely lose control over their own bodies, their lives, they no longer have the capability to in anyway live with dignity.”
Governor Peter Shumlin on WDEV’s Mark Johnson Show, February 22, 2007
From a Transcript no longer available online. For a copy email True Dignity Vermont at [email protected].
Why would Governor Shumlin make such contradictory statements?
The facts show that Shumlin was correct when he said, “…it isn’t people who are in extraordinary pain that makes (sic) this choice.”
To quote the Oregon Public Health Authority in its 2010 report on assisted suicide in that state:
As in previous years, the most frequently mentioned end‐of‐life concerns were: loss of autonomy (93.8%), decreasing ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable (93.8%),and loss of dignity (78.5%)
These real reasons each raise a red flag, for several reasons:
- Loss of dignity and loss of enjoyable activities are problems very similar to the problems behind the suicides of those who are not terminally ill. Was the college student who committed suicide after his roommate filmed his sexual encounter not driven by feeling that his dignity had been compromised (http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B07E6D91638F933A0575AC0A9669D8B63&ref=tylerclementi) ? The A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia on the website of the National Institutes of Health, cites loss of pleasure in activities formerly found enjoyable as a symptom of depression, which underlies most suicides (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001941/). Our culture has historically tried to prevent suicides that spring from the loss of dignity caused by bullying and from depression. Can we really think than assisting the suicides of terminally ill people whose problems are identical to those of non-terminally ill people will not send a signal to the non-terminally ill and to the culture that suicide is an acceptable solution to those problems? How long will our society continue trying to save any suicidal person?
- That people feel they would rather be dead than lose autonomy indicates a societal breakdown that is destroying normal human relationships. If the care our society provides in nursing homes, hospitals, and families has become so poor, so grudgingly given, that people would rather commit suicide than get to the point of needing it, something is wrong. Something is wrong when people feel they cannot trust doctors and loved ones to respect their wishes not to linger in a hospital hooked up to tubes and machines. Something is wrong when people feel they cannot trust doctors, loved ones, insurance companies, and the government not to abandon them as they die naturally. Has our culture reached a point where there is no alternative to overtreatment except suicide? Why, from 2001-2005, did only 20.2% of Vermonters use hospice during their final six months (http://vtdigger.org/2011/04/19/vermonters-don%E2%80%99t-utilize-hospice-until-too-late/ )?
- If loss of autonomy (need for care) is an acceptable reason for socially-sanctioned suicide, can people with disabilities requiring constant care not feel that society would rather they be dead too and that the care they get is paid for and given grudgingly? What does this say to people born with such disabilities and eager to live but unable to do so autonomously? How long will our society give them any help once it sanctions suicide for people whose reason for seeking it is that they need help?
Governor Shumlin’s 2007 statement proves he has read the Oregon Reports giving the real reasons. Why did he assert false reasons for committing suicide in 2011? Perhaps he knows that pain sells, and that the real reasons, scrutinized, do the opposite.