Right now, Coloradans are voting on Proposition 106, which would legalize physician-assisted suicide in our state. I plan on voting against.
Proponents often point to the truly heart-rending situations that terminal patients and their families find themselves in, without hope, and without quality of life. There is no question that such situations exist, and that they can be terrible to behold for those involved and those close to them.
But for each emotional trauma avoided, others, as yet unseen, will be created.
Margaret Dore, a Washington State attorney active in the fight against euthanasia and assisted suicide, wrote in an article published in the ABA Voice of Experience, a news letter for the Senior Lawyer Division:
I have had two clients whose parents signed up for the lethal dose. In the first case, one side of the family wanted the father to take the lethal dose, while the other did not. He spent the last months of his life caught in the middle and traumatized over whether or not he should kill himself. My client, his adult daughter, was also traumatized. The father did not take the lethal dose and died a natural death.
In the other case, it’s not clear that administration of the lethal dose was voluntary. A man who was present told my client that the father refused to take the lethal dose when it was delivered (“You’re not killing me. I’m going to bed”), but then took it the next night when he was high on alcohol. The man who told this to my client later recanted. My client did not want to pursue the matter further.
In an effort to avoid visible emotional and physical pain, the state has instead created moral and emotional trauma (in the first case) and potential murder (in the second). At a minimum, the second instance – a man getting drunk in order to kill himself, or killing himself while drunk – can’t be particularly comforting.
The law would also create perverse incentives for insurers and, in the case of Medicaid and the proposed state single-payer measure also on the ballot, the government, to cover suicide drugs but not expensive life-extending care. Instead of giving hope for ending pain, the law may end up removing hope of cure, remission, or simply an extended life.
“For a while, five months or so, we’ve been trying to get me on a different chemotherapy drug for the infusions, because my doctor felt that it would be less toxic than some of the other drugs that we were going to be using,” Ms. Packer said in a video distributed by The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network on Monday.“And I was going back and forth, and finally I had heard back from them, and they said, ‘Yes, we’re going to get it covered, we just have to fix a couple of things,’” she continued.
But shortly after California’s End of Life Option Act, which authorizes physicians to diagnose a life-ending dose of medication to patients with a prognosis of six months or less to live, went into effect, Ms. Packer’s insurance company had a change of heart.
“And when the law was passed, it was a week later I received a letter in the mail saying they were going to deny coverage for the chemotherapy that we were asking for,” Ms. Packer said.
I say “may,” because that sort of back-and-forth Ms. Packer describes is the kind of thing that often happens when insurance companies are trying to find a reason not to cover a treatment. It may be that the assisted suicide law gave them the out they were looking for.
As would be expected, the Libertarian Party is in favor, citing personal liberty concerns, and the ownership of one’s own life. When insurers, hospitals, and the government see it as a cost-management issue, I’m sure they’ll be happy to give you all the liberty you want to end your life.