Legislating Death

I’m not much of one for politics. It’s too easy for me to see many different sides of things, to understand where every different person is coming from. And I hate the way it tears us up and divides us as a community of humanity.

There are some issues, however, that are just too close to my heart to be ignored.

One of them is this so called dying with “dignity.” They use the word “dignity” to gloss over the fact that they are talking about killing people. Killing people who are not child molesters or criminals. Just people that society seems to feel have less value than anyone else. That, frankly, terrifies me.

I received a phone call today from someone in support of a prop in MA to make physician-assisted suicide legal. He called the wrong phone number. I no longer live in Massachusetts, but I’ll do what I can to spread the word that there’s a lot the people who are in support of this bill aren’t telling you.

It sounds really good on the surface. Allow people who are terminally ill and in pain to end their lives on their own terms.

But no one gets to decide that. Able-bodied people are not allowed to kill themselves when they feel like it. It’s against the law. And if someone talks about wanting to kill himself, he’s gotten to¬†counselling¬†immediately. Why is that not the same when someone is disabled? Then it is somehow seen as noble and good to want to die. Take the burden off the rest of us?

When we decide which lives are worthy of respect, we are in a very dangerous territory. 

I know that this bill is meant to be enacted only for people who are in a fit state to decide to die (is anyone who decides to die in a fit state?) and those who are inevitably going to die (we are ALL inevitably going to die), but it is far too easy for it to be used for relatives, institutions, and doctors to decide that someone should die. For no crime except that of being disabled.

This is not as cloudy as the debate over when life begins. This is life. It is life that someone is deciding is not worthy. Worthy of what?

We have been enriched as a society by people with very severe disabilities. We have been given amazing speeches by those who are dying. Why would we rob our culture of the insight and perspective of this vast group  of people?

There are many wonderful rights that we have as human beings and that all human beings should have equally. Death is not one of them. We do not choose the time that we die. No one has the right to die. And to try to give it to some people and not others based on your idea of what a worthwhile life is…that is folly indeed.

If you are in Massachusetts, I urge you to consider voting “no” on this proposition.

A commenter on an article I read about it said it extremely well…

There are many reasons to oppose assisted suicide aside from “moral” or religious grounds. Firstly, assisted suicide laws are not needed because anyone has the right to make an advanced directive to have medical treatment, food and water withheld or withdrawn should they become incapacitated, and to receive palliative sedation to ease the dying process. Secondly, the poorly-crafted “safeguards” in the proposed law only hide problems, protect doctors from potential liability, and facilitate abuse by insurers, custodial institutions and relatives. As well, assisted suicide laws discriminate against old, ill and disabled people. When non-disabled people say they want to die, they receive suicide prevention services, social and psychological help, and may even be locked up to prevent a suicide attempt. But when elders and people with disabilities say they want to kill themselves, they’re seen as behaving rationally. Worse yet, while most suicide attempts fail, assisted suicide nearly guarantees that the suicide attempts of disabled people will succeed. This double standard is a concrete example of how disabled people are seen as less valuable, undignified, and of the common belief that it’s better to be dead than disabled.

After all, there are few people more dignified and accomplished than Stephen Hawking, and he has no control over most of his muscles.
Effective palliative care can prevent nearly all pain, breathlessness and nausea at the end of life; if a person is uncomfortable s/he is not getting good medical care. Yet assisted suicide affects far more people than those at the end of life. The data from Washington and Oregon are designed to hide and obfuscate the impact of the law, making an accurate assessment of the law’s impact impossible.

Voting on assisted suicide should not be based on the say-so of a priest or a doctor, nor on the hollow promises of autonomy and control offered by supporters. Voters should examine the political and social context, where cost-cutting drives medical decisions, the quality of life can be adversely affected by cuts to government programs, and some people are considered better candidates for suicide than others.

-Amy Hasbrouck

Some other voices to consider:

Bad Cripple: Choosing to Die has Ramifications, How to Die in Oregon 

Not Dead Yet: Massachusetts Medical Society Opposed to Prop , Assisted Suicide Laws Violate ADA



  1. Greg Snider
    Sep 21, 2012

    We’ve had the Physician Assisted Suicide law here in Oregon for the past 18 years. NONE of the “slippery slope” arguments that opponents of this compassionate aid have come to pass. Instead, people with terminal illnesses (not the disabled) get the assistance they desire in ending their pain and suffering on their own (and their families’) terms.

    Voters should study how this law has worked in a real world application here in Oregon.
    Or talk to the families of people that have chosen this option to end their lives.

    • RuthMadison
      Sep 21, 2012

      Well, I know this is a tricky issue with people feeling very intensely about it on both sides. This is pretty much the only issue that I feel passionately about and I feel extremely passionate on it!

      So this is my point of view. I do hope that voters will research and learn about all the sides of this issue before making a decision.

      I do not believe that it is right for terminally ill people to have the choice to end their lives. I do not believe that anyone has the right to terminate his life. As the commenter said, this is not about pain, as there are ways to manage pain.

      Clearly some people do think we should be able to choose when we die. I do not. I don’t think it should be legal for some whose lives we deem to be horrible and not legal for others. I’d have less of a problem with it if suicide were legal for people who were clinically depressed.

      I think terminally ill people have a valuable perspective to give to the community and culture around them and ducking out early can deprive our society of important elements.

      But this is my individual opinion of an issue that I am unable to be unbiased about.

  2. Greg Snider
    Sep 22, 2012

    Thanks for your thoughts,

    I believe people should have the choice of when and how to end their lives. It is the ultimate basic human right. No one should be able to make that ultimate decision other than the individual. And no should should be able to deny another of that decision.

    Not all pain can be alleviated by modern medicine. This is a myth. Some people do not find a fulfilling life in being drugged up.

    Someone who is clinically depressed, is not terminal. They are suffering, but the final absolute prognosis of their suffering is not a guaranteed death from clinical depression. People that are terminal do not have the choice to live – if they did, they most likely would choose life. Once you have lost the chance of survival, I think you are clearly in a different position than other forms of suffering.

    Ducking out early suggests a shunning of responsibility, of giving up. I once had someone tell me that physician assisted suicide is “the easy way out.” My response was – “What’s wrong with the easy way out – when you know the fast approaching final outcome to be suffering and death?” And I can think of nothing more difficult than deciding for yourself when to end it all – and then actually going through with it.

    Terminal people can have valuable perspectives; the way they choose to die and the path they come to their decisions can help to inform all of us when we face our own mortality.

    I had a young friend who suffered from liver disease. She suffered for many years until she was terminal and it was too much for her. She killed herself, alone and with no support. She lived in Chicago so she had no recourse to physician aide. Had she been an Oregon resident, she could have ended her life surrounded and supported by loved ones instead of alone in her apartment where her family discovered her body.
    I’m so proud and relieved to live in Oregon,where it is not a crime to be present comforting and loving the person who has chosen “the easy way out.”

    • RuthMadison
      Sep 23, 2012

      You make some good points.

      I find that I am still unable to see this differently.

      We’re all dying and the law does not allow for any of us to choose the time that we go. I think the way the universe is set up does not allow us to ever know the time that we will die. We desperately want to have that choice and control, but no one does. We don’t have the right to kill ourselves just as we don’t have the right to kill others.

      But in the end I think perhaps I will see this the same way that I see abortion: I personally think it’s wrong and shouldn’t be done, but I don’t begrudge anyone else making the decision for herself whether she thinks it is wrong or not. I won’t do it in my life, but someone else can do it in her life and I won’t think less of her.

      Perhaps I will be able to think of suicide that way too someday. If the devastation that two merely attempted suicides by people close to me ever goes away.

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