Thursday, July 1, 2010

Suicide ruling ignores abuse

Senator Greg Hinkle
Senator Greg Hinkle, the state senator from Montana who has introduced the Montana Patient Protection Act, was attacked by the suicide lobby after his previous article explaining the purpose of the patient protection act.

For instance, the Baxter decision in Montana did not legalize assisted suicide or physician assisted homicide but rather stated that if prosecuted, a physician could use the defense of consent. Hinkle points out that the court overlooked the issue of elder abuse in its decision.

I have reprinted Hinkle's article from the Missoulian. It is worth reading.

Suicide ruling ignores abuse
Guest column by GREG HINKLE | Posted: Tuesday, June 29, 2010
I have introduced the Montana Patient Protection Act, which prohibits physician-homicide and physician-assisted suicide. The act is in response to the Supreme Court decision Baxter v. State of Montana. This act is based on Montana's public policy to prevent elder abuse and to value all citizens.

Baxter holds that a patient's consent to physician-assisted suicide "constitutes a statutory defense to a charge of homicide against the aiding physician." In Baxter, the court overlooked elder abuse. The court stated the only person "who might conceivably be prosecuted for criminal behavior is the physician who prescribes a lethal dose of medication."

The court overlooked criminal behavior by family members and others who may benefit from a patient's death, for example, due to an inheritance. Although an aiding perpetrator faces a charge of homicide, "aid in dying" is commonly referred to as "assisted suicide." The term "aid in dying" is also used to describe euthanasia.

There are two states that allow physician-assisted suicide, Washington and Oregon. The vast majority of states that have considered such laws have rejected them. In 2010, a bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide was defeated in the New Hampshire House of Representatives in a bipartisan vote of 242-113. A similar law was recently defeated in the Canadian Parliament by 228-59.

In Montana, there has been rapid growth of elder abuse. Nationwide, elder financial abuse is a crime growing in intensity, with perpetrators often family members, but also strangers and new "best friends." Abuse of the elderly and other vulnerable adults is often subtle and difficult to detect. Victims are often unwilling to report due to embarrassment or a desire to protect family members.

Allowing a victim to consent to physician-assisted suicide creates another path of abuse. For example, a perpetrator could encourage an older person to request a lethal dose and then administer the dose without his consent. The older person's prior request, voluntary or not, would provide the alibi. With the difficulty of detecting and proving homicide, generally, and the difficulties in preventing and detecting abuse specifically, considering the unwillingness of victims to report, it is against public policy to allow a victim to consent to his own homicide.

The Baxter decision applies to "terminally ill" patients. Doctor prognoses of life expectancy can be wrong. I have a close relative, who at age 52 had a serious heart attack and was given a prognosis of no more than eight years to live. That was more than 30 years ago and many grandchildren, great grandchildren later he is still enjoying life. Allowing physician-assisted suicide will thus result in some Montanans, with many good years left, cutting their lives short. This situation will be even more evident if the proponents' definition of "terminally ill adult patient" is adopted by the authorities. This definition is broad enough to include a young person dependent on insulin or a young man with stable HIV/AIDS, who could have decades to live. Encouraging Montanans to shorten their lives is contrary to Montana public policy, which seeks to "improve and protect the health and well being, and self reliance" of all Montanans.

Allowing physician-assisted suicide will open the door to the "Barbara Wagner" scenario. Wagner was a resident of Oregon with lung cancer. The Oregon Health Plan refused to pay for a drug to possibly prolong her life and offered to pay for "aid in dying" instead. Unable to afford the drug, she was steered to suicide. Wagner stated, "I am not ready, I am not ready to die." Will young persons with diabetes or HIV/AIDS be the next Barbara Wagners? Montana already has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation. It is a state priority to reduce the suicide rate for persons of all ages. Steering citizens to kill themselves is contrary to this policy.

Montana values all of its citizens, including those who are older or may have chronic conditions or other disabilities. Baxter overlooked elder abuse. It is against public policy to allow consent to homicide; to encourage Montanans to cut their lives short or steer them to suicide. Montanans should reject "aid in dying."

Sen. Greg Hinkle represents Montana Senate District 7, which covers Sanders, Mineral and the northwest end of Missoula counties.
Link to the article: http://missoulian.com/news/opinion/columnists/article_15a9cbb8-8385-11df-a993-001cc4c03286.html

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