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Why the legalized suicide movement has “stalled at every level”

by | Oct 24, 2017

By Dave Andrusko

No one who keeps in close contact with state right to life groups has any illusions about the staying power of “Compassion and Choices,” aka, the Hemlock Society. It has enormous resources and by and large is a media heartthrob.

In state after state, year after year, it proposes legislation. A broad coalition of groups which agree on little other than the imperative to thwart “physician-assisted suicide,” comes together to fend them off.

That having been said, it still is encouraging to read a story in today’s Washington Post headlined, “Legalizing assisted suicide has stalled at every level.” While an exaggeration, it is true that with a couple of exceptions, Compassion and Choices has been defeated in legislature after legislature.

Written by Paige Winfield Cunningham with Paulina Firozi, the story aptly starts with the event that fueled the assisted suicide engine– Brittany Maynard–before providing an overview of recent Compassion and Choice’s failures.

Three years ago, Brittany Maynard’s viral video launched the issue of medically assisted suicide into the national spotlight. But while advocates have notched a few wins since then, they’ve also run up against some strong, bipartisan resistance.

Two states — California and Colorado — have made it legal for doctors to prescribe life-ending medication to terminally ill patients since Maynard, diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer, publicized her decision to end her life. Physician-assisted suicide is legal in six states, including Vermont, Oregon, Washington and Montana, as well as the District.

Yet none of the 27 states where such measures were introduced this year passed them into law, according to tracking done by Compassion and Choices, a group that backs assisted suicide. The bills were either quashed in committee or passed one legislative chamber but not the other. That was the case even in states run by Democrats, including Connecticut, Rhode Island and Hawaii.

The Post goes into other recent important defeats, and we will, too, momentarily. But first some context.

Maynard’s case had everything the assisted suicide movement could possibly want. She was young, tragically struck by a viciously aggressive cancer, and wholly supported in her desire to be assisted to die by her husband and mother. Such was the power of her narrative and the video Compassion and Choices peddled around the country that it took all the effort of a coalition that includes among others disability rights groups (which have proven to be indispensable], major doctors groups, the American Bar Association, (whose neutrality Compassion and Choices is desperate to win), the Catholic Church, and pro-life organizations to stop a bandwagon effect from taking place.

As Cunningham and Firozi note, the successes enjoyed by the opponents of Compassion and Choices include a recent unanimous decision by the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court. In rejecting the assertion that there is a right to assisted suicide, the Court said in Myers v. Schneiderman.

Contrary to plaintiffs’ claim, we have never defined one’s right to choose among medical treatments, or to refuse life-saving medical treatments, to include any broader “right to die” or still broader right to obtain assistance from another to end one’s life…

We have consistently adopted the well-established distinction between refusing life-sustaining treatment and assisted suicide. The right to refuse medical intervention is at least partially rooted in notions of bodily integrity, as the right to refuse treatment is a consequence of a person’s right to resist unwanted bodily invasions.

The Post story can’t cover everything; its focus is on the fact that “legalized assisted suicide” is, for now, stalled. But in choosing another personal account, that of a former staffer to two powerful Democratic officeholders in New York, Cunningham and Firozi help the reader understand the critical importance of people facing terrible prognoses who choose not to be “assisted” to die.

The man, J.J. Hanson, suffered from the same ghastly brain cancer. At one point, in a weakened state, Hanson was near giving up. Looking back

The couple fears that had Hanson been able to get life-ending medications, he may have chosen to take them in those dark moments and missed out on subsequent years with his wife and two young sons. …

“We had no idea at the time he was having those kinds of thoughts,” Kristen [Hanson] said. “So when he saw this idea of assisted suicide being presented as a safe option only given to patients who are of sound mind, he would say no, that’s not a foolproof safeguard. Depression is something that is very difficult to diagnose.”

The story concludes by citing polls that show the public says assisted suicide should be allowed. Yet

Kristen said the issue isn’t one she and J.J. ever seriously considered until J.J. was facing a terminal illness. Now she’s convinced that public opinion could be shifted by explaining it could put emotionally vulnerable patients at risk — and persuade insurers to cover lethal medications instead of more expensive but lifesaving treatments.

“These are profit-driven businesses,” she said. “Are they going to do the right thing, or the cheap thing?”

Categories: Assisted Suicide