Assisted Suicide: Lethal Discrimination Against Old, Ill and Disabled People

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By Diane Coleman

Assisted suicide may understandably be viewed as an easy way to die, but a closer look reveals inherent dangers that should lead to second thoughts.

First, assisted suicide is not needed to ensure that we can die peacefully in our sleep, since we can already do so by receiving palliative care, up to and including full sedation.

So, what do assisted suicide laws actually do? They grant civil and criminal immunities to healthcare providers and caregivers who may be involved.

The image of government approved, medically administered assisted suicide is that it only hastens the death of someone who is already dying and voluntarily takes lethal drugs, with “safeguards” preventing abuse.

Under U.S. laws, an heir or abusive caregiver may suggest assisted suicide, witness the written request, and even give the drug without consent.

In contrast, in U.S. jurisdictions where assisted suicide is legal, Oregon being the national “model”, no authority verifies patients were eligible or procedures were followed. A short form filed by the prescribing doctor is accepted at face value. It’s the “honor” system.

The U.S. laws require a 6-month prognosis, yet Oregon data shows that people far outlived their prognosis. Hospice data shows that 12-15% outlive their predicted expiration date. Oregon also defines someone as “terminal” who simply cannot afford treatment.

Some countries have expanded assisted suicide eligibility to include people with ordinary non-terminal disabilities and even psychological suffering with no physical illness.

So, the image that all eligible people are dying soon anyway is not valid. But isn’t it still voluntary?

Unfortunately, under U.S. laws, an heir or abusive caregiver may suggest assisted
suicide, witness the written request, and even give the drug without consent.
No independent witness is required when the drugs are used, so who would know? Assisted suicide can also hide medical mistakes or malpractice.

Assisted suicide is being marketed as a new “civil right”.

Finally, perhaps the greatest concern should be healthcare cost cutting pressures. As cofounder of the Hemlock Society Derek Humphry wrote, “…economics, not the quest for broadened individual liberties or increased autonomy, will drive assisted suicide to the plateau of acceptable practice.”

Assisted suicide is being marketed as a new “civil right,” but will we fall for it? Will we offer suicide prevention to most suicidal people, but carve out those who are old, ill and disabled? How long before a so-called option turns into an expectation, then a duty?

The real civil rights are nondiscrimination and equal protection of the laws. This is why every major national U.S. disability organization that has taken a position on assisted suicide laws opposes them.

Diane Coleman is the President of Not Dead Yet.

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