Sunday, May 6, 2018

Testimony of Anita Cameron Opposing New York Assisted Suicide Bill A2383A

Testimony of Anita Cameron
Not Dead Yet Director of Minority Outreach
Opposing “Medical Aid In Dying Act”
May 3, 2018

Anita Cameron
This testimony was published by Not Dead Yet.

Good day. Thank you very much for allowing me to offer my thoughts to you today.

My name is Anita Cameron. I am a 52-year-old with multiple disabilities, two of which are degenerative, and one which will take my life. I am testifying in opposition to the Medical Aid in Dying Act.

I will not use the euphemism that is the name of this bill, but will refer to it by exactly what it is, and as the New York Court of Appeals also concluded – physician assisted suicide. It is very important to be up front, clear and honest about what this is. Couching it in pretty language and hiding the truth is disingenuous at best, and dangerous, at worst.

As disabled people know very well, doctors often make mistakes about whether a person is terminal or not. In June, 2009, while living in Washington state, my mother was determined to be in the final stages of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and placed in hospice. Two months later, I was told that her body had begun the process of dying. My mother wanted to go home to Colorado to die, so the arrangements were made. A funny thing happened, though. Once she got there, her health began to improve! Almost nine years later, she is still alive, lives in her own home in the community and is reasonably active.

Last year, I was among the scores of disability advocates dragged out of Congressional offices and hearing rooms and arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience in the fight to save healthcare. Our actions were detailed in a twenty minute segment of Rachel Maddow on MSNBC and countless other media. That these actions were necessary shows the brutal reality of today’s cost-cutting pressures in healthcare.

I am here as Director of Minority Outreach for Not Dead Yet, a national disability rights organization opposed to physician assisted suicide and euthanasia as deadly forms of discrimination against people with disabilities, whether terminally ill or not. I live in Rochester, New York, but work with people of color and other marginalized communities around the nation.

My primary reason for opposition to this bill and others like it is that disabled BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People Of Color) are at particular risk of being harmed by it.

Our health care system is inherently racist. Studies show that Blacks and people of color receive inferior medical treatment compared to Whites. We are less likely to receive adequate treatment for heart conditions, diabetes, cancer and chronic pain.

The lives of people with disabilities are largely devalued by doctors and society, in general. The lives of BIPOC with disabilities are even more devalued due to racism and stereotypes about our communities. If, in addition, one is from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Trans (LGBT) community, as I am, that devaluation becomes exponential.

As a Black Latina, I could never wrap my head around the assisted suicide phenomenon. I thought that it was some odd thing that privileged White people were into. My thoughts were confirmed when I learned that the Pew Research Center recently found that while 54% of Whites supported assisted suicide, 65% of Blacks and Latinos opposed it.

Although assisted suicide requests in Oregon are lower among Blacks and people of color, that doesn’t mean that this won’t change in more diverse areas, especially as healthcare support lessens. Groups like Compassion and Choices (formerly the Hemlock Society) are already marketing the idea to minority communities.

Another reason for my opposition is that doctors would be the gatekeepers of people’s lives, and can decide for you about your quality of life. Under these bills, doctors are the ones who decide whether someone is eligible for assisted suicide.

Another frightening thing that isn’t told about this bill is that the definition of terminal is broader than one realizes. This was borne out in an email conversation between Fabian Stahle, of Sweden and Craig New, a Research Analyst with the Oregon Public Health Division. The Oregon law uses the same definition of “terminal” as the New York bill: “terminal disease” is defined as an incurable and irreversible disease that has been medically confirmed and will, within reasonable medical judgment (in the opinion of the patient’s attending physician and consulting physician), produce death within six months. Mr. Stahle asked whether this rule is interpreted as “without administration of life-sustaining treatment”?

The Oregon Public Health Division answered in December, 2017:

A. …your interpretation is correct. The question is: should the disease be allowed to take its course, absent further treatment, is the patient likely to die within six months?

Stahle further asked, “If the doctor suggests, to an eligible patient, a treatment that possibly could a) prolong life, or b) transform a terminal illness to a chronic illness, or c) even cure the disease—and if the patient doesn’t give his/her consent to the proposed treatment is he/she still eligible to take use of the Act? If a patient with a chronic disease (for instance, diabetes) by some reason decides to opt out from the life-sustaining medication/treatment and by doing so is likely to die within 6 months, thereby transforming the chronic disease to a terminal disease—does he/she then become eligible to take use of the act?

The Oregon response was “While this is not addressed specifically in the law, the answer in both cases is yes—those patients would qualify. The law is best seen as a permissive law, and states only that patients must have a terminal illness with six months or less to live. It does not compel patients to have exhausted all treatment options first, or to continue current treatment.”

Then Stahle asked, what “if the patient’s health care provider/insurance company is not willing to pay for the proposed treatment—is the patient still eligible to take use of the Act?

The state response was, “Patients suffering from any disease (not just those that typically qualify one for the DWDA) may not be able to afford some treatments or medication, and may choose not to pursue some treatments or take some medication for personal reasons. This is the patient’s decision and the law does not compel them to do otherwise. If the patient does not receive treatment or medication (for whatever reason) and is left with a terminal illness, then s/he would qualify for the DWDA. I think you could also argue that even if the treatment/medication could actually cure the disease, and the patient cannot pay for the treatment, then the disease remains incurable.”

To say that this is frightening for people with disabilities, communities of color and poor people is an understatement! Under this proposed assisted suicide law, because of this climate we’re living in, more, not fewer people will fall prey to assisted suicide.

Because of the racist, profit-driven nature of our health care system and the tendency of doctors to devalue the lives of disabled, people of color and the poor, assisted suicide has no place as an option in New York.

Thank you for your attention.

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