Sunday, November 2, 2014

Assisted Suicide is bad medicine.

This article was published in the Sacramento Bee on November 1, 2014

By Marilyn Golden 

Marilyn Golden
Why, when listing opponents, did The Sacramento Bee editorial pushing an assisted-suicide law ignore the disability community? (“Give the dying the right to pick how and when to die”: Editorials, Oct. 26) We could be those most affected.

As a disability-rights advocate and person living with a disability, I know our concerns aren’t just “fear-mongering.” Rather, legalizing assisted-suicide is a direct threat to our community as well as to the elderly, people with chronic illness and others marginalized by society.

The Oregon assisted-suicide experiment has major problems.

When Oregonian Barbara Wagner was prescribed chemotherapy for aggressive lung cancer, the Oregon health plan refused to cover it. They offered, instead, among other things, to pay for her assisted suicide. Randy Stroup, another Oregonian with cancer, received a similar denial. Is there any wonder why? Treating people with terminal or chronic illness is expensive. At roughly $300, assisted suicide is the cheapest “treatment.”

Direct coercion is not even necessary. Denying, or even merely delaying, expensive, life-sustaining treatment can drive patients toward assisted suicide. It is a deadly mix with our cost-driven health care system.

This is partly why every major disability organization taking a position opposes legalizing assisted suicide.
Oregon’s supposed “safeguards” are hollow. For example, there is no real protection for people with psychiatric disabilities. Oregonian Michael Freeland received a prescription for suicide pills despite a 40-year documented history of major depression and suicide attempts.

Prognoses of terminal illness are very often wrong. Many people in the disability community have outlived a terminal diagnosis by years and even decades. Living active, meaningful lives, they are glad today that assisted suicide was unavailable during their initial despondency.

There is nothing in the law that prevents an abusive caregiver or greedy heir from coercing a family member to “choose” assisted suicide. They can even administer the lethal dose – no witness is required, so who would know?

For people dying in discomfort, palliative sedation can relieve their pain. Legal in all 50 states, it does not pose the real dangers of legalizing assisted suicide.

Brittany Maynard’s story is tragic. When you look at assisted suicide through the narrow lens of one individual, it may look acceptable. But when viewed as broad public policy, assisted suicide is bad medicine.

If it is legal, some people’s lives will be ended without their consent, through mistakes and abuse. No safeguards have ever been enacted or even proposed that can prevent this outcome, which can never be undone.

Marilyn Golden is the senior policy analyst for the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, a national civil rights law and policy center.
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