Thursday, February 25, 2021

Second Thoughts CT leader Cathy Ludlum on opposing assisted suicide: “there is no safeguard that can counter the social stigma of needing help with intimate care."

This article was published by Not Dead Yet on February 24, 2021.

By John B. Kelly, the director of the disability rights group, Second Thoughts.

On January 14, Second Thoughts CT leader Cathy Ludlum joined WPLR host John Voket on his show “For the People” to explain why legalized assisted suicide is simply too dangerous to implement. The full transcript is here.

In the 15-minute segment (beginning at 37:20), Cathy meets Voket where he is, and agrees that on its surface, many people would think it’s “a good idea to put the choice of when and how one dies into the hands of the individual.”

But when you start presenting people with other things to think about, a lot of times people may support the theory, but then the implementation worries them and they cannot support it as they had in the past. In other words, talking to one of us or all of us often gives them “second thoughts.” So that’s where the name of our group came from and we’ve been active and mobilized since 2013, as I said.

Cathy pulls the conversation from a narrow focus on individual autonomy to the realities of a society prejudiced against disabled people, who “already have challenges whenever we go to the hospital or we try to get healthcare.”

What those of us in the disability community are trying to get across is, there is no safeguard that can counter the social stigma of needing help with intimate care, of having to rely on others for support, or of seeing your caregivers tired and wondering if the world would be better off without you.

Indeed, Oregon doctors reported that in 2019 “feeling like a burden” motivated more than half of the patients who were prescribed a lethal overdose. Cathy doesn’t get into the details, but the other top four “end-of-life concerns” also relate to psychological distress about the disabling aspects of serious illness, not physical pain as proponents insist.

There is also no possible safeguard to prevent coercion:

with no independent person there at the time of death, how can we ever know that it was the individual’s choice instead of a person who has been threatened or coerced or feels that they have no other choice than to end their own life?

Whenever disabled people point out the dangers of assisted suicide, journalists and legislators routinely ask, as Voket does, whether “legislation can be crafted to carve out the disability community that is so significantly concerned.”

Cathy patiently explains that the legislation “changes the way healthcare is structured” by codifying in law a medical practice that produces death as a beneficial outcome. “And so it changes the doctor-patient relationship. It changes the way insurance and financial reimbursement and such work.”

If some people are understood in state law and medical practice to be literally “better off dead” than alive, “it involves changing the whole way we look at life and death.” I would add that legalized assisted suicide logically leads to doctors and people in a patient’s orbit recommending, persuading, and instigating that death. We have the examples of Kathryn Judson, who overheard her husband’s doctor telling him that he should commit suicide to spare her the trouble of caring for him, or Kate Cheney’s family that was intent on her death.

There is no way to protect disabled people because

there is a tendency in the medical system already to think of us as terminally ill even though we may all live on for years with the right support. I understand the need to try and create some middle ground, and I wish we could do that, but I don’t see a way of making that happen.

It’s long been known that doctors and medical personnel underestimate the “quality of life” experienced by disabled people, who love our lives as much as nondisabled people.

Voket asks whether the legislation has gone terribly wrong in other places, and Cathy refers to a list of abuses and complications compiled by the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF). Cathy mentions without name the case of Michael Freeland, “with a 40-year history of suicide attempts being given the drug.”

It’s also been true that, once established as a benefit, assisted suicide (or in some other countries, straight up euthanasia) gets extended to more and more conditions, such as non-terminal conditions like diabetes and multiple sclerosis in Oregon, and depression and feeling “tired of life” in other countries. People can become “terminal” because their insurance denies coverage to and people can’t afford necessary treatment, or they stop their life-sustaining treatment.

Voket concludes the interview by asking Cathy if Second Thoughts CT could support “the other potential proposals involving end-of-life legislation that might hit the State House floor this session?”

Cathy affirms Second Thoughts’ support for “palliative care and anything that would support a person as they are nearing the end of life,” and of “good suicide prevention strategies.”

Our question is, how can the State of Connecticut be promoting suicide prevention while possibly at the same time promoting suicide assistance? And the difference is what label you wear, whether you are deemed as terminally ill, elderly, having a “complete” life — which is something they use in other places, or “disabled.”

Cathy loves her life and is upbeat about how supports can meet the challenges of disability. As she stated at the beginning of the interview, the problem isn’t disability but the deadly prejudice against it. And the answer is to remove that prejudice, not the people it targets for death.

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