By the Administrators
The August 13, 2012 edition of the New York Times contains a puff piece for assisted suicide that uses an anecdote about an Oregon physician to rehash the tattered argument that assisted suicide is safe because most of those who commit suicide where assistance is legal are affluent, insured, and well-educated. Because they could afford to pay for care, they are presumed not to be vulnerable to pressure.
Presumption is far from proof.
In an article published in November 2010 in the Journal of Medical Ethics, UK medical researchers I G Findlay and R. George go after the assumption that affluence equals invulnerability. That presumption, they write, sees “the concept of vulnerability from one perspective only”. They point out that many people, including some researchers, lack objectivity because “those who see a problem from within a set of values have difficulty imagining a view from elsewhere”. Findlay and George argue that it is entirely possible that the wealthy may in fact be more vulnerable than the poor to pressure to commit assisted suicide. The assumption that the poor are more vulnerable, they say, is based on a system of value judgments rather than solid research. An abstract and instructions for buying their article can be found at: http://jme.bmj.com/content/37/3/171.abstract. We will be glad to share our copy of the article with individuals on request.
Findlay and George list the following reasons why the affluent may be vulnerable:
1. “…illness and potential dependence are more frightening to them or because they have fewer psychosocial supports”
2. “ …they are people who are familiar with the intricacies of the law and can argue more persuasively with their physicians”
3. “… they may be vulnerable to factors invisible to rigid demographic analysis.”
4. “…stigmatization of illness and disability” may exist among the affluent.
Findlay and George also assert that the continued rise in the number of assisted suicide deaths in Oregon points to the need to investigate a possible role of “media coverage and possible contagion” and “subliminal unintended coercive influence from proponents of PAS….especially in consumerist societies in which citizens may be more sensitive to fashion and the new” and “to feel…that not to conform to the new way is in some manner politically incorrect”.
While Findlay and George don’t limit the possibility of this cultural coercion to the affluent, True Dignity, recognizing that we have our own set of values, believes that wealth creates its own set of pressures to die that come into play the moment assisted suicide is made legal anywhere.
The doctor in the NY Times article (not linked here, but easy to find online) mouths the slogan of the national assisted suicide movement to the reporter: “…it is my life, it is my death, and it should be my choice.”
We say to him that what may (or may not) be his free choice may not be a free choice at all for another, whether that other is rich or poor, insured or not, educated or not. Our personal choices end where they threaten others.
Legal assisted suicide is and will always be a threat to some. We need to do everything possible to keep it from spreading in our country.