WASHINGTON (CNS) — The deadly and dangerous practice of assisted suicide is now legal in five states: Oregon, Washington, Vermont, California and Colorado, and the District of Columbia, the nation’s capital. Montana’s highest court, while not officially legalizing the practice, suggested in 2009 that it could be allowed under certain circumstances. With new momentum and lots of money, assisted suicide proponents are pursuing an aggressive nationwide campaign to advance their agenda through legislation, ballot measures, litigation and public advertising, targeting states they see as most susceptible to their message.
Some polls indicate that the public is receptive to the general concept of assisted suicide. But the same polls show that when the public learns about the dangers of assisted suicide, especially for those who are poor, elderly, disabled or without access to good medical care, their views shift against the practice. The following dangers are among the top reasons to oppose assisted suicide.
A deadly mix with profit-driven health care systems
Some patients in Oregon and California have received word that their health insurance will pay for assisted suicide but will not pay for treatment that may sustain their lives.
Puts vulnerable persons at risk of abuse and coercion
Once lethal drugs have been prescribed, assisted suicide laws have no requirements for assessing the patient’s consent, competency or voluntariness. Who would know if the drugs are freely taken, since there is no supervision or tracking of the drugs once they leave the pharmacy and no witnesses are required at the time of death?
Despite a reporting system designed to conceal rather than detect abuses, reports of undue influence have nonetheless surfaced in Oregon. In one case, a woman with cancer committed suicide with a doctor’s assistance even though she had dementia, was found mentally incompetent by doctors, and had a grown daughter described as “somewhat coercive” in pushing her toward suicide.
Elder abuse is considered a major health problem in the United States, with federal estimates that one in ten elder persons are abused. Placing lethal drugs into the hands of abusers generates an additional major risk to elder persons.
Assisted suicide laws often allow one of the two witnesses to the request for lethal drugs to be an heir to the patient’s estate. Therefore, an heir or friends of the heir can encourage or pressure the patient to request lethal drugs and then be a witness to the request.
Dangerously broad definition of terminal illness
Assisted suicide laws typically appear to limit eligibility to terminally ill patients who are expected to die within six months but don’t distinguish between persons who will die within six months with treatment and those who will die within six months without treatment. This means that patients with treatable diseases (like diabetes or chronic respiratory or cardiac disease) and patients with disabilities requiring ventilator support are all eligible for lethal drugs because they would die within six months without the treatment they would normally receive.
Pain not primary issue
Untreated pain is not among the top reasons for taking lethal drugs. Per official annual state reports, in 2016, 90% of Oregon patients seeking lethal drugs said they were doing so because they were “less able to engage in activities making life enjoyable” and were “losing autonomy,” and 49% cited being a “burden” on family, friends or caregivers. And in Washington, 52% cited being a “burden” as a reason, while only 35% cited a concern about pain.
No psychiatric evaluation or treatment required
Despite medical literature showing that nearly 95% of those who commit suicide had a diagnosable psychiatric illness (usually treatable depression) in the months preceding suicide, the prescribing doctor and the doctor he or she selects to give a second opinion are both free to decide whether to refer suicidal patients for any psychological counseling. Per Oregon’s official annual report, from 2013-16 less than 4% of patients who died under its assisted suicide law had been referred for counseling to check for “impaired judgment.”
If counseling is provided to patients seeking assisted suicide, its goal isn’t to treat the underlying disorder or depression; it’s to determine whether the disorder or depression is “causing impaired judgment [emphasis added].” The doctors or counselor can decide that, since depression is “a completely normal response” to terminal illness, the depressed patient’s judgment is not impaired.
Threatens improvement of palliative care
There is compelling evidence that legalizing assisted suicide undermines efforts to maintain and improve good care for patients nearing the end of life, including patients who never wanted assisted suicide.
Assisted suicide creates two classes of people: those whose suicides we spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year to prevent and those whose suicides we assist and treat as a positive good. We remove weapons and drugs that can cause harm to one group, while handing deadly drugs to the other, setting up yet another kind of life-threatening discrimination.
There are many more reasons why legalizing assisted suicide is a bad and dangerous idea. For further information, visit www.usccb.org/toliveeachday and www.patientsrightsaction.org.
Information provided by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
From the time we are knit together in our mothers’ wombs until we take our final breaths, each moment of our lives is a gift from God. While every season of life brings its own challenges and trials, each season also give us new opportunities to grow in our relationship with God.
Today the gift of life is threatened in countless ways. Those who are most vulnerable, rather than receiving the protection they deserve, are all too often seen as a burden and as expendable. As new attacks on human life continue to emerge, we can be tempted to despair, but Christ instead offers us unfailing hope.
Hope is not false optimism or empty positivity. Christian hope is something much more profound and goes to the very depths of our identity as followers of Christ.
Hope is the virtue “by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit” (CCC, 1817).
Like us, Christ entered the world through the womb of a woman. He willingly experienced the fullness of human suffering. He breathed his last on the Cross of Calvary in order that he might save us. Therefore, “God is the foundation of hope: not any god, but the God who has a human face and who loved us to the end: (Spe Salvi 31).
Christians know “they have a future: it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness.” (SS 2).
For this reason, a woman experiencing a difficult pregnancy can find the strength to welcome her precious child into the world. A man facing a terminal diagnosis can see that the end of his earthly life is only the beginning of eternal life with Christ.
The Church teaches us that “the one who has hope lives differently” (SS 2). Christ’s promises of salvation does not mean that we will be spared from suffering. Rather, the promise of salvation ensures that even in the darkest moments of our lives, we will be given the strength to persevere. By virtue of this Christian hope, we can face any challenge or trial. When the seas of life swell and we are battered by the waves, hope allows us to remain anchored in the heart of God. May we hold fast to Christ our hope, from the beginning of life to its very end.
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