Sunday, June 9, 2019

An Open Letter to Maine Governor Mills: Veto Assisted Suicide Law LD 1313

(Sadly, the Maine Governor signed the assisted suicide bill). 

This letter was published by Not Dead Yet on June 6, 2019.

Dear Governor Mills:

Diane Coleman, Not Dead Yet
The disability community appeals to you to veto LD 1313, which would legalize a public policy of assisted suicide.

Many people are unaware of the fact that every major national disability organization that has taken a position on assisted suicide laws opposes them. These include over a dozen prominent groups, many of which have undersigned this urgent appeal:

ADAPT
American Association of People with Disabilities
Assn of Programs for Rural Independent Living
Autistic Self Advocacy Network
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund
National Council on Disability
National Council on Independent Living
National Organization of Nurses with Disabilities
National Spinal Cord Injury Association
Not Dead Yet
TASH
The Arc of the United States
United Spinal Association
Our reasons for opposing assisted suicide laws are many. Most of them are illustrated by these documented examples of significant problems which occurred in states that have courted the danger of a law based on Oregon’s “death with dignity” Act. These examples are available at:

When assisted suicide is legal, it’s the cheapest treatment available—an attractive option in our profit-driven healthcare system. Bitter experiences has shown that insurers are denying expensive life-sustaining treatment but offering lethal drugs instead.

Terminal diagnoses and prognoses are too often wrong, leading people to lose good years of their lives. If one doctor says “no,” people can “doctor shop” for a “yes,” regardless of their actual legal eligibility. The highly touted “safeguards” turn out to be truly hollow, with no real enforcement or investigation authority. Assisted suicide is a prescription for abuse: an heir or abusive caregiver can steer someone towards assisted suicide, witness the request, pick up the lethal dose, and in the end, even administer the drug—no disinterested witness is required at the death, so who would know?

Evidence appears to show that assisted suicide laws also lead to suicide contagion, driving up the general suicide rate. For example, a CDC report reveals that from 1999-2010, suicide among those aged 35-64 increased 49% in Oregon, where assisted suicide has been legal the longest, as compared to a 28% increase nationally.

Finally, although assisted suicide proponents will say that it’s not about disability, the top 5 reported reasons for assisted suicide requests in Oregon throughout the years since legalization are all disability issues: “loss of autonomy” (90.6%), “less able to engage in activities” (89.1%), “loss of dignity” (74.4%), “losing control of bodily functions” (44.3%), and “burden on others” (44.8%). (The same reports show that every year except the first, some of those who died by lethal prescription were not terminal within six months.)

These are issues that many people face, not only those of us commonly considered disabled, but also seniors, people with chronic conditions, and people with advanced illnesses, including terminal illnesses. These reasons demonstrate that virtually all who die by lethal prescriptions in Oregon are disabled, in that they need assistance from another person for daily activities.

As people who have fought for the civil rights and equal protection of all people with disabilities, we in the undersigned organizations understand that our society is permeated with negative stereotypes about disability. Award winning movies deliver the message that it’s “better to be dead than disabled.” We understand the shame people are taught to feel if they become disabled, the pressure to hide that we need help, the guilt for “inconveniencing” others.

There are ways to address the reasons people have for requesting assisted suicide, but it starts with a societal commitment to treat all suicides as a tragedy, to respond to anyone’s expression of suicidal feelings with an equal level of support, affirmation of the value of their life and effort to address their concerns. A two-tiered system where most people get suicide prevention but certain people get suicide assistance is a deadly form of discrimination that should not be accepted. Assisted suicide laws exacerbate the disability stigma that prevails in our culture and undermine people’s genuine autonomy by establishing a medically administered program of suicide approval and assistance in a health care environment already riddled with pressures to cut costs of care.

Assisted suicide is bad medicine for Maine. We hope that this information is helpful in your consideration of this life and death public policy issue, and would welcome the opportunity to communicate about this further.

Sincerely,

Diane Coleman, JD, MBA
President/CEO
Not Dead Yet
497 State Street
Rochester, NY 14608
708-420-0539 C
www.notdeadyet.org

ON BEHALF OF:

ADAPT
American Association of People with Disabilities
Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living
Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund
National Council on Independent Living
Not Dead Yet
TASH: Equity, Opportunity, and Inclusion for People with Disabilities Since 1975
United Spinal Association

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