Saturday, June 27, 2015

Letter: Collateral damage of assisted suicide

This letter was written by disability rights attorney, Christopher Knauf, and published on June 25 in the Glendale News-Press

Dan Evans' recent op-ed, “Start the presses: Debating doctor assisted death,” avoids any mention of the serious and permanent collateral damage that accompanies physician-assisted suicide laws.

Assisted suicide offers no second chances. Terminal diagnoses are often wrong. Countless patients have been given “six months to live,” only to continue living for years.

Additionally, people who may technically be “mentally competent” but who are experiencing depression and decreased mental capacity are at great risk. Studies have found that a large percentage of those with dementia, for example, remain undiagnosed. Do we doubt that such people are at great risk of greedy family members or caregivers?

Wherever assisted suicide is legalized, too often, patient choice and control over one's healthcare is removed. Assisted suicide pills cost much less than the medical treatment for a chronically ill patient, or someone living with a disability who may need greater-than-average care. Do we really trust insurance companies to do the right thing — or the cheapest thing?

As disability rights advocates, we fear that family pressure, misdiagnosis, doctor-shopping, and meaningless safeguards will put our colleagues, friends and clients at grave risk. The stigma of severe disability — and the desire to die rather than live with a disability - is sadly real and rampant. Every major disability rights organization in the nation that has taken a position on this issue is opposed to physician-assisted suicide. While well-meaning at first glance, the debate loses sight of the very people it claims to help — the ill patients who stand to be permanently harmed.

Twelve states have rejected assisted suicide bills this year alone. California should follow suit.

Christopher Knauf
Santa Monica

Christopher Knauf is a disability rights litigation and special education attorney. He is a board member of the Westside Center for Independent Living, and was a Founding Member and Former Chair of the Santa Monica Disabilities Commission.

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