A bill to legalize assisted suicide is being introduced in California. Fortunately, Marilyn Golden, Senior Policy Analyst for the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, is already working to ensure that the disability rights opposition to this bill is being heard.
And some disability rights advocates are vehemently opposed. Marilyn Golden, senior policy analyst with the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, warns that heirs and caregivers would have opportunities for abuse, and that legislative safeguards for people suffering from depression and other mental disorders are hollow.
Golden also told me the marriage of a profit-driven healthcare system and legalized aid in dying sets up dangerous possibilities. She warned of a scenario in which insurers might deny or delay life-sustaining treatments and a patient “is steered toward assisted suicide.”
The inclusion of Marilyn Golden and DREDF is important and obviously columnist Steven Lopez is well aware of the opposition of disability groups. Yet, two days ago, the LA Times Editorial board issued their support for legalization and failed to mention – or chose to omit – any reference to disability groups. This is what the editorial had to say about opponents of assisted suicide: ”The Roman Catholic Church and other groups will almost certainly have strong objections to such a law, but their moral codes should not be imposed on those with different beliefs.” But Marilyn was clearly not talking about “moral codes” and “beliefs.” The former attorney for the bill’s proponents, Kathryn Tucker, was also quoted in the article, stating misleadingly that:
. . . there’s actually “strong support for expanding end-of-life choices” among many people with disabilities.
“We now have a great abundance of data from Oregon and Washington that makes clear there is no harm to persons with disabilities when aid in dying is available,” Tucker said.
The Oregon data, limited though it is, shows serious harm to people with disabilities in at least two ways:
Every year, people who are not terminal, who outlive a terminal prognosis but are both seriously ill and (in virtually all cases) disabled, receive lethal prescriptions (the data conceals how many, but hospice data tells us that 15% of people outlive a 6-month terminal prognosis); and
The top five reasons that people request assisted suicide are related to disability, not being terminal, showing both that they are disabled and that their disability related concerns that could be addressed are not being addressed.
Two of those reasons are feelings of “loss of autonomy” and “being a burden” on family and loved ones. Earlier today, I found myself explaining to a lobby group something very familiar to those of us who use consumer directed home care services, like myself. The disability rights movement is in a decades long fight for these services, step by incremental step in state after state, led by ADAPT, and supported by federal policy initiatives and the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Olmstead.
But how many people know about these services and how to access them? Assisted suicide laws don’t require any disclosure of these consumer directed home care options for addressing the reasons people want assisted suicide, much less requiring that these services are provided to those who need them. That would be a form of suicide prevention that could really make a difference. Instead, assisted suicide laws effectively say, who cares, just throw them under the bus.
There’s another key danger that Marilyn Golden obviously pointed to, based on the brief snippet the LA Times reporter included, saying that she “warns that heirs and caregivers would have opportunities for abuse.” The Oregon assisted suicide law does not require an independent witness at the death. Most who die under the Oregon law are age 65-84, in a society where one in ten elders are abused according to federal figures. The abusers are usually family members. About half the people reported to use assisted suicide in Oregon did not have a health provider present at the time of death. With no independent witness required, there is no evidence that they self-administered the lethal drugs, or even that they consented at the time of death.
These policy proposals have to be considered in light of the sad reality that not all seriously ill people have loving family. These laws grant blanket immunity and effectively foreclose investigation of wrongdoing. As one elder law attorney, Margaret Dore, put it, they are a “recipe for abuse.”
NDY advocates will be working with DREDF and Californians Against Assisted Suicide to defeat this bill, and any similar bills that may be introduced in any state in the U.S. As Marilyn so effectively summarizes, “If this bill passes, some people’s lives will be ended without their consent, through mistakes and abuse. No safeguards have ever been enacted or proposed that can prevent this outcome, which can never be undone.”