Saturday, February 15, 2020

Assisted suicide laws are the most egregious form of discrimination against disabled and "terminally ill" people.

Published in the New Hampshire Union Leader on February 14, 2020

By Mike Reynolds, Not Dead Yet

For over two decades the independent people of New Hampshire have been solidly against assisted suicide. Since 1996, the New Hampshire legislature has studied or voted down this proposed law so many times it takes two hands to count them all.

Assisted suicide laws are the most egregious form of discrimination against severely disabled and “terminally ill” people. How can we call suicide a public health crisis for most people while facilitating the suicides of older, ill and disabled people? Should we not be doing everything we can to support such persons in having the best possible health care and home care so they have quality of life for however long they have?

With the experience of the laws in Oregon as a guide, the question of assisted suicide becomes, quite frankly, incompatible with New Hampshire values. [The] state motto, “Live Free or Die,” means we reject government interference in our daily lives. Oregon state government’s promotion of an assisted suicide program administered by the health care system means pushing people towards assisted suicide through denials of coverage for treatment and in-home care, covering up abuses, and ignoring incorrect prognoses that lead people to think they are dying when they are not.

The numerous flaws in HB 1659, the “Death with Dignity Act,” are so obvious that New Hampshire should reject this absurd legislation again. With HB 1659, the government would be promoting suicide for what in the preamble it calls “mental anguish over the prospect of losing control and independence, and/or embarrassing indignities.” This is a direct attack on the thousands of disabled Granite Staters who maintain their independence and dignity by directing aides to perform their care.

While assisted suicide proponents depict assisted suicide as only a last resort for people with advanced cancer, Oregon’s doctors have written lethal prescriptions for individuals whose qualifying medical diagnosis for assisted suicide was reported as chronic conditions like diabetes, gastrointestinal disease, arthritis, arteritis, sclerosis, stenosis, kidney failure, and musculoskeletal systems disorders.

As in Oregon, under bill HB1659 a person can be considered “terminal” and therefore eligible for assisted suicide simply by refusing medication they need. By that definition, people who have epilepsy, ongoing infections and other illnesses that can be managed with medication can qualify. This legislation is not limited in scope and is actually far more dangerous than the proponents want to admit.

A report released in May 2018 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that from 1999-2010, suicide among those aged 35-64 increased 49% in Oregon as compared to a 28% increase nationally. In Oregon, the rate of suicide is 21 percent above the national average and their rates of teen suicide have even been higher. There is a clear problem of suicide contagion.

While the bill proponents claim there are safeguards, there is absolutely no oversight once the medication is picked up from the pharmacy. Under the Oregon law and the proposed legislation, a “friend” can encourage an elder to make the assisted suicide request (“just in case”), sign the forms as a witness, pick up the prescription, and even administer the drug (since no independent witness is required). To be perfectly clear, the current bill being debated only discusses “self-administration” of the lethal drugs in the bill’s preamble; nowhere in the substantive provisions is the word mentioned.

This law is also vague about who can access it, but it would be far easier for an eighteen year old with a serious medical condition that could be controlled with medication to access this law than it would for the same eighteen-year-old to access cigarettes or alcohol.

There is nothing compassionate or caring in this bill. Instead it could serve as a template to encourage and even pressure the most vulnerable in our society, our older and critically ill populations, to hasten their deaths. And by giving legal immunity to everyone involved, it creates a legal framework where elder abuse (up to and including homicide), which nationally impacts about 10% of elders, gets a free pass. Please contact your legislators and have them oppose this very dangerous legislation.

Mike Reynolds is a member of Not Dead Yet, a disability rights group opposed to assisted suicide.

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