Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition
Barbara Coombs Lee, president of the assisted suicide lobbying group, Compassion & Choices, has posted a response to the arraignment of nurse William Melchert-Dinkel (47) on two counts of aiding suicide. According to the criminal complaint, Melchert-Dinkel trolled the internet, posing as a young woman, encouraging dozens of people to kill themselves. The specific charges arise out of the deaths of 23 year old Mark Drybrough and 18 year old, Nadia Kajouji.
Coombs Lee’s post on Compassion & Choices’ blog is titled: "The Real Crime of Assisted Suicide." She states that reporters have been calling Compassion & Choices for comment, "perhaps with the expectation that we would not condemn the alleged behavior." Coombs Lee, however, and rightfully so, condemns the alleged conduct of Melchert-Dinkel.
Coombs Lee’s post is, nonetheless, not up front about the role of her organization. First and foremost, Compassion & Choices also encourages suicide, which she euphemistically terms "aid in dying." Coombs Lee further states that "aid in dying" is something "different" than suicide, in part, because she claims it is limited to people who are dying anyway. She states: "Aid in Dying . . . changes only the timing of the imminent death in a minor way." She also claims that "aid in dying" promotes patient "self-determination." This is not only wordplay, but malarky.
Last week a Connecticut court further agreed that "aid in dying" is in fact assisted suicide by another name. In the Blick case, Compassion & Choices argued that the Connecticut law that prohibits assisted suicide does not prohibit "aid in dying" because "aid in dying" is not suicide. The court concluded that the definition proposed by Compassion & Choices is identical to the definition of assisted suicide and therefore it is prohibited by the assisted suicide law.
In other words, "aid in dying" is simply another name for assisted suicide.
Compassion & Choices has recently, at least twice, proposed expanded "aid in dying" laws, which would apply to non-dying people. In New Hampshire, where an assisted suicide law was defeated in January, her organization proposed a definition of "terminal condition" so broad that it would have included otherwise healthy people with disabilities. See here: http://notdeadyetnewscommentary.blogspot.com/2009/01/new-hampshire-poised-to-redefine.html.
Similarly, in Montana, Compassion & Choices’ definition of a "terminally ill adult patient" would have applied to an 18 year old who is insulin dependant or a young adult with stable HIV/AIDS. http://www.euthanasiaprevention.on.ca/ConnMemo02.pdf
Compassion & Choices’ broad definitions of "terminal" are also significant in terms of healthcare delivery. This is because once patients are labelled "terminal," an easy justification can be made that their treatment or coverage be denied in favour of someone "more deserving." In Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal, this has already happened, with the most well-known case involving Barbara Wagner. Wagner, who had cancer, wanted the chance to live offered by the drug, Tarceva. The Oregon Health Plan, however, denied coverage and offered to pay for "aid in dying." Wagner did not see this "option" as a celebration of her "self-determination." She said: "I'm not ready, I'm not ready to die."
In November 2008, Coombs Lee commented on the Wagner case. In an Orgonian editorial, she defended the Oregon Health Plan, argued against Wagner’s choice to try Tarceva and argued for a public policy change to discourage patients from seeking cures. Coombs Lee stated:
"The burning health policy question is whether we inadvertently encourage patients to act against their own self interest, chase an unattainable dream of cure, and foreclose the path of acceptance that curative care has been exhausted and the time for comfort care is at hand. Such encouragement serves neither patients, families, nor the public."http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2008/11/sensationalizing
So much for patient "self-determination." Moreover, if Compassion & Choices’s broad definitions of "terminal" would be adopted, would the next "Barbara Wagners" include 18 year olds dependant on insulin or young adults with HIV/AIDS? This is a fair question.
Part of the shock expressed with Melchert-Dinkel’s conduct concerns his alleged use of deception to hide his true identity and agenda. Compassion & Choices, deceptively named as if it were a promoter of individual choice, has a similar attribute.
Legal assisted suicide, whatever its name, is not about patient self-determination. It is about enabling physicians or other people and institutions such as health plans to pressure others to an early death or even to cause that death. This is the "crime" of assisted suicide.