On the surface, if you only consider the wishes of a single individual, assisted suicide legislation might seem reasonable, and the media flurry surrounding the case of Brittany Maynard has made it seem that way.
But it is important to look at the significant dangers of legalizing assisted suicide as public policy for all Californians, particularly those who might not have a strong support system; access to health care, palliative care and hospice; or the benefit of a loving, caring family. Assisted suicide legislation has many unintended consequences that can impact the vast majority of us.
As a former hospital social worker for many years, my primary concern is for individuals who might feel pressured into ending their lives. Elder abuse in the United States is rampant, and the vast majority of the perpetrators are family members. I have worked with wonderful, supportive family members, but not all that I have worked with were like this. Some were abusive and stole money from their disabled and elderly relatives.
Nothing in the proposed assisted suicide law protects patients when family pressures, whether financial or emotional, distort the ill person’s choice. And nothing prevents an heir, who stands to benefit from the patient’s death, from helping the patient sign up for the lethal dose.
No assisted suicide “safeguard” can ever protect against coercion. In this era of managed care, will those living with a disability and the seriously ill be more likely offered lethal prescriptions in place of medical treatment? A prescription for 100 Seconal tablets costs far less than most medical treatments, especially considering the cost of long-term care for someone living with a disability.
This scenario has already become a reality in Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal.
The oncologist for cancer patient Barbara Wagner prescribed a specific chemotherapy to extend her life, which was her choice. Her insurance provider, Oregon’s state-run health plan, denied coverage of the treatment but offered, in writing, to pay for her assisted suicide. The same thing happened to Randy Stroup, also of Oregon. When assisted suicide is legal, it becomes just another treatment option.
Would you trust an insurance company to “do the right thing” or the cheapest thing for their bottom line?
In California’s Death with Dignity bill, there is no oversight after the lethal dose of barbiturates is picked up from the pharmacy and no requirement for an outside witness to be present when the deadly drugs are taken. There would be no one there to know whether or not a patient changes her mind or decides that she isn’t ready to die. There would be no one there to know if the individual has taken the pills on her own or if someone else put the lethal dose in a feeding tube.
There are many key opponents to legalizing assisted suicide. These include the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, the American College of Physicians, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, the American Cancer Society and the League of United Latin American Citizens.
Assisted suicide is bad medicine for California and puts too many people at risk.
Ann Cupolo Freeman is a retired licensed clinical social worker and medical social worker who lives in Albany and is member of the board of directors of the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund Inc. Contact: email@example.com.