Thursday, June 8, 2017

One Year of Legalized Assisted Suicide in California, Countless Unanswered Questions

Jacqueline Abernathy
Dr Jacqueline H. Abernathy

June 9 will mark one year of legal assisted suicide in California, after euthanasia advocates managed to co-opt a special session of the state Assembly to resurrect a bill that had been profoundly defeated by lawmakers several months earlier.

Although premature and lacking in reliable data, Compassion & Choices (C & C, formerly the Hemlock Society) is already declaring the law is “working very well” in a recent press release - stating also: “Personal Stories, Statistics Show Law is Working as Lawmakers Intended.”

However this report is full of dubious statistics that begs more questions than it feigns to answer.

The report lists the number of facilities, doctors, insurance companies and hospice locations that support assisted suicide - yet supporting a dangerous law does not equate to proving it safe. If you recall, California legislators had soundly rejected assisted suicide in the previous session based upon a host of concerns about the safety of not just assisted suicide, but a bill that makes evaluation of the use of this form of euthanasia virtually impossible---since the law mandates that death certificates falsify the actual cause of death. The law states that death certificates from assisted suicide have their cause of death listed not as the lethal overdose that caused it- but their underlying prognosis.

In lieu of real data, C & C has offered this figure and rationale for how often the law has been employed by Californians: “At least 504 terminally ill adults in California have received prescriptions for medical aid in dying based on inquiries to Compassion & Choices” adding, “However, the total number of prescriptions written statewide will be significantly higher since not every terminally ill Californian who wanted an aid-in-dying prescription contacted Compassion & Choices.”

State statistics are not set to be released for another month (July 1) but this preliminary projection begs the question: no matter what this figure is, how many bottles of unused poison remain in medicine cabinets or otherwise accessible as a danger to those for whom it was not prescribed?

While it is important to know (rather than estimate) the number of people who obtained a prescription for the lethal drug, actual vital statistics provided by valid death certificates are critical to determining not just how many actually followed-through suicide rather than those who had a change of heart- how many died of their underlying natural illness or how many even may have been misdiagnosed and have gone on to live long and healthy lives - a circumstance that has been known to happen for people who have rejected euthanasia. These stories provide a sobering counter-argument to those in the C & C press release from the families of assisted suicide victims, since of course those who died of assisted suicide cannot speak for themselves like those who rejected it.

By championing the charge to hide real data on cause of death, C & C assured that this is something we can never know. It also assures that lethal drugs remain perilously accessible to those who did not consume them- a public health threat in California.

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