Some HIV/AIDS groups have endorsed Ballot Question 2, which seeks to legalize assisted suicide in Massachusetts via a proposed act. This post suggests that these groups and/or persons living with HIV/AIDS should give the issue a second look.
1. "Terminal" Does Not Mean "Dying"
The proposed act applies to persons with a "terminal disease," defined in terms of less than six months to live. In Oregon, where there is a similar act, the six months to live is determined without requiring treatment.
In other words, a person living with HIV/AIDS, who is doing well, but who is dependent on treatment to live, is "terminal" for the purpose of assisted suicide eligibility.
2. The Significance of a Terminal Label
Once someone is labeled "terminal," an easy justification can be made that his or her treatment should be denied in favor of someone more deserving. In Oregon, "terminal" patients are not only denied treatment, they are offered assisted suicide instead. In a recent affidavit, Oregon doctor Ken Stevens states:
"9. Under the Oregon Health Plan, there is . . . a financial incentive towards suicide because the Plan will not necessarily pay for a patient’s treatment. For example, patients with cancer are denied treatment if they have a "less than 24 months median survival with treatment" and fit other criteria. . . . 12. All such persons . . . will . . . be denied treatment. Their suicides under Oregon’s assisted suicide act will be covered."Dr. Stevens concludes:
"14. The Oregon Health Plan is a government health plan administered by the State of Oregon. If assisted suicide is legalized in [your jurisdiction], your government health plan could follow a similar pattern. If so, the plan will pay for a patient to die, but not to live."
In Oregon, the most well known persons denied treatment and offered suicide are Barbara Wagner and Randy Stroup. Neither saw this event as a celebration of their "choice." Wagner said: "I'm not ready to die." Stroup said: "This is my life they’re playing with."
4. Proposals for Expansion
I live in Washington State, where assisted suicide is legal under an act passed in 2008. Four years later, there have already been proposals to expand our act to non-terminal people. Moreover, this year, there was a Seattle Times column suggesting euthanasia as a solution for people unable to afford care, which would be involuntary euthanasia for those persons who want to live.
Prior to our law's being passed, I never heard anyone talk like this.
Is this what you want?
To be just like us?
Legal assisted suicide puts anyone with a significant health condition at risk of being steered to suicide. For other reasons to vote against assisted suicide, please click here for talking points. I hope that AIDS groups and people living with AIDS reconsider any support of Ballot Question No. 2. Thank you.
* * *
Margaret Dore is a lawyer in Washington State where assisted suicide is legal. She is also President of Choice is an Illusion, a non-profit corporation opposed to assisted suicide and euthanasia. Ms. Dore has been licensed to practice law since 1986. She is a former Law Clerk to the Washington State Supreme Court. She has several published court cases and many published scholarly articles. Her viewpoint is that people should be in control of their own fates, but that assisted suicide laws do not deliver. This year, she had an editorial published in the NY Times: "Assisted Suicide: A Recipe for Elder Abuse." For more information see www.margaretdore.com and www.choiceillusion.org
* * *
 The proposed Massachusetts act, Section 1(13) states: "'Terminal disease" means an incurable and irreversible disease that has been medically confirmed and will, within reasonable medical judgment, produce death within six months. To view the entire act, go here: http://www.massagainstassistedsuicide.org/p/initiatives-text.html
 For an example, see the affidavit of Oregon doctor Ken Stevens describing his patient Jeanette Hall. She had been given six months to a year to live by another doctor, i.e. without treatment, and had decided that she would use Oregon's law. Dr. Stevens convinced her to be treated instead. His affidavit can be viewed here: http://choiceisanillusion.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/signed-ken-stevens-affidavit_001.pdf. Oregon's definition of "terminal disease" can be viewed here: http://public.health.oregon.gov/ProviderPartnerResources/EvaluationResearch/DeathwithDignityAct/Pages/ors.aspx
 Dr. Stevens affidavit can be viewed here: http://choiceisanillusion.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/signed-ken-stevens-affidavit_001.pdf
 Susan Donaldson James, "Death Drugs Cause Uproar in Oregon," ABC News, August 6, 2008, available at: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Story?id=5517492&page=1 and "Letter noting assisted suicide raises questions," KATU TV, July 30, 2008, available at: http://www.katu.com/news/26119539.html
 KATU TV article at Note 5.
 ABC News article at Note 5.
 Washington State's assisted suicide law can be viewed here: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=70.245
 See e.g., Brian Faller, "Perhaps it's time to expand Washington's Death with Dignity Act, The Olympian, November 16, 2011, available at: http://www.theolympian.com/2011/11/16/1878667/perhaps-its-time-to-expand-washingtons.html
 Jerry Large, "Planning for old age at a premium," The Seattle Times, March 8, 2012 at: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/text/2017693023.html. ("After Monday's column, some readers were unsympathetic [to people who couldn't afford their own care], a few suggested that if you couldn't save enough money to see you through your old age, you shouldn't expect society to bail you out. At least a couple mentioned euthanasia as a solution.")