[The following was a speech given by Leslie Wolfgang at a Waterbury gathering on December 9, 2013.]
You may not know this, but the push for assisted suicide has come to Connecticut and out of concern for others, I believe we should stop it. There are arguments in favor of assisted suicide that appeal to our sense of independence or wanting choices, a fear of losing control or of dying. I’m going to discuss these and why on careful review, they fall short.
The supporters of assisted suicide begin by conjuring an image of modern man hooked to high-tech machines, receiving numerous treatments beyond their control or effectiveness. I do not dismiss their concerns, I have them myself. But nobody is advocating for unwanted treatment. Not me, people with disabilities, elderly advocates, not the doctors and nurse associations that oppose assisted suicide. The concerns are real, but the solution is to respect the wishes of patients with regard to drugs and machines, not use drugs and machines to kill patients.
A second reason we are told we need “aid in dying” laws is as a “treatment” for people with insufferable pain. Again, who wants to say “no” to people who have insufferable pain? But in Oregon, people who request assisted suicide are asked why. And their answers don’t support it as a cure for pain. The number 1 reason people request assisted suicide is fear of “losing autonomy”. The second reason is “inability to enjoy the activities of life” and the 3rd most requested reason is “loss of dignity”. Second from the bottom, number 6 was “inadequate pain control, or concern about it.”
I do not discount people’s concerns about pain, but statistics from Oregon don’t support the necessity of changing our state laws to use suicide as a treatment for pain. In no state, are doctors prosecuted for giving morphine to relieve insufferable pain, even if that patient ends up dying because of it. What we need is more research into identifying untreated pain, education, and managing pain with new medications.
Another reason cited to legalize “aid in dying” in Connecticut is that if we just create enough administrative rules . . if we craft careful restrictions, we can control it. This is a fantasy. Contradicted by the experiences of The Netherlands, a region that has expanded their euthanasia program over 30 years to include growing circles of people.
Since passing their law, studies show that nearly 1/3 of the assisted deaths are now done without consent. 47% of the deaths are unreported and done by unauthorized hospital personnel. The people most affected by these abuses are the “bed blockers” – people in their 80s who are not responding to treatment. In the Netherlands, you can purchase a “Please don’t euthanize me” card and carry it in your wallet. A survey of senior citizens there reveals that 10% refuse to seek medical treatment because they are afraid being euthanized against their will.
The circles have extended to people who are suffering mentally or presumed to be suffering mentally. In April 2012, a depressed mother was euthanized although not physically ill. In December 2012, twin brothers who were born deaf, died by euthanasia even though they were not sick. A woman with anorexia who was sexually abused by her psychologist was legally euthanized. And last month a person who suffered from a botched gender-change operation was euthanized. And these are just the stories that get international attention . . there are many more.
Officials in Belgium also report that they are already euthanizing newborns with disabilities because of the distress caused to the parents, not the patient. They are poised to adopt a law which extends their euthanasia to competent children and people with alzheimers. Once assisted suicide becomes commonplace, the logic of excluding some groups, but not others, disappears.
Can’t happen in the US? Washington state, which legalized physician-assisted suicide in 2009 has had discussions to extend their law to non-terminal people.
A fourth argument in favor of assisted suicide is that there is no proof that abuse can happen. But earlier this year a woman was legally convicted, who stole more than $50K from a man who moved into her home, named her his trustee, and then died by physician-assisted suicide. With 13 trillion dollars in assets, 50 percent of the United States’s asset base, baby boomers represent a prime target for future fraud and elderly abuse.
Studies also show that assisted suicide increases suicide in general. Oregon’s suicide rate, after decreasing before they adopted assisted suicide, has increased to 41% above the national average.
I have a confession to make. I am a libertarian at heart and the argument that rational, well-informed adults, should be able to make their own decisions, about the end-of-life, appeals to me. But we are not an island unto ourselves. Laws have consequences, and asking the government to license doctors to administer death inducing drugs at a time when we’re reforming of our health system to save costs, should give us pause.
I want us to think about my friend, Cathy Ludlum. A long time resident of Connecticut and a person with severe disabilities, she says “I’m worried about health care rationing, I think it could mean the end of my life.”
In conclusion, the arguments in favor of assisted-suicide . . to counteract overtreatment, to treat insufferable pain, lack of abuse, and arguments for personal choice sound appealing at first . . but after careful review, the licensing of physicians to dispense deadly drugs . . to violate their oath “to first, do no harm” . . simply can’t justify eroding protections for people with disabilities, the elderly, and the most vulnerable among us.
Razors pain you,
Rivers are damp,
Acids stain you,
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful,
Gas smells awful.
You might as well live.
― Dorothy Parker, Enough Rope