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The case against assisted suicide

by | Dec 19, 2014

 

The tragedy and dangers of legalization

By Paul Stark, Communications Associate, Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life

assisted-suicide_mediumThe death of Brittany Maynard and other recent events have put assisted suicide in the headlines. How should we think about this emotional issue?

Physician-assisted suicide—euphemistically called “aid in dying” and “death with dignity”—is when a doctor prescribes a lethal dose of medication for a patient to intentionally take his or her own life.

This is very different from allowing a natural death by declining medical treatment. Assisted suicide is intentional killing. And it is both wrong in principle and dangerous in practice.

Everyone matters

Each person matters. That’s why suicide is always tragic. Every human life, without exception, is valuable—regardless of age, illness, disability or state of dependency, and regardless of whether a person will live for another six months or another 60 years.

Certainly, we should never downplay the difficulties and fears surrounding disease and disability. But the solution to these problems is not killing. The solution is to provide the emotional support and medical care that patients need, including mental health care and quality palliative care.

The best answer to suffering is to end the suffering. It is not to kill the sufferer.

Practical dangers

The suicide lobby’s emphasis on sympathetic individual cases obscures the broader dangers of legalizing assisted suicide.

Legalization opens the door to pressure, coercion and outright elder abuse. In Oregon, which pioneered physician-assisted suicide, 40 percent of assisted suicide victims have expressed concern about being a “burden” on family and friends, according to the Oregon Health Authority. Prescribing physicians are generally not present when the lethal dose is administered.

After legalization, public and private insurers may have a financial incentive to steer patients toward suicide rather than life-extending treatment. This has already happened to some patients in Oregon.

Only a tiny fraction (5.9 percent in Oregon) of assisted suicide victims first receive psychiatric evaluation—some would want to live if properly treated for depression. And terminal diagnoses can be wrong. Legalizing assisted suicide encourages patients who would live for weeks, months, years or even decades to throw their lives away.

Moreover, the acceptance and glamorization of suicide can lead to many more (non-assisted) suicides. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “More than 50 research studies worldwide have found that certain types of news coverage can increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals.” This “suicide contagion” is a risk to society as a whole.

And assisted suicide is unlikely to remain limited to the terminally ill. Why should length of time left make a difference? The reasons and arguments for suicide, after all, do not apply only to those with a terminal diagnosis. In the Netherlands and Belgium, which practice active euthanasia, the circumstances in which killing is deemed appropriate have only continued to expand.

That is not the direction in which Minnesota should go.

A question of human equality

Suicide in general is still widely recognized as a terrible mistake. Society tries its best to prevent people from making that fateful decision. But advocates of assisted suicide think some individuals should be treated differently and allowed—indeed, helped—to kill themselves. This discrimination is a rejection of the equal and intrinsic value of all human life.

People who are disabled, sick or vulnerable should not be excluded from our protection and care. Everyone counts.

Editor’s note. This appeared in the November/December newsletter of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, NRLC’s state affiliate.

Categories: Assisted Suicide