Assisted suicide dies at the ballot box
Published on November 14th, 2012
by Kathleen M. Gallagher
One bit of good news that came of the elections this month was the defeat of the Massachusetts ballot proposal to legalize so-called “death with dignity.” The voters in the Commonwealth saw through the gushy gobbledygook of “aid-in-dying” for the terminally ill, and unmasked the initiative for what it truly was: the legalization of doctor-assisted suicide.
It’s an astounding victory, given that the polls just a week before Election Day had shown the referendum passing by a wide margin. Bravo to the successful and organized effort in Massachusetts to defeat the proposal, led by pro-life organizations, medical groups, disability rights advocates and the Catholic Church. And bravo to the voters of Massachusetts! Here are my top 5 reasons why they did the right thing.
- Common sense says we should prevent suicide, not enable it. Our society has always recognized suicide and attempted suicide as a tragedy. Those who attempt suicide are generally depressed and in need of psychiatric evaluation. They cry out for our love and assistance, not a lethal dose of drugs.
- We must maintain the physician’s role as healer. The Hippocratic Oath says “First, do no harm” and “I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked.” Doctors know that assisted suicide would undermine the doctor-patient relationship, and they are committed to providing high quality end-of-life care. Their job is to kill the pain, not the patient.
- Most pain can be controlled. Advances in pain management have come a long way. Today, pain is recognized as a vital sign, just like blood pressure, and it is monitored, assessed and treated on a regular basis. Once that is done, according to Dr. Kathleen Foley, a pain specialist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, requests for death disappear.
- Patients would feel financial pressure to end their lives. There is no question that dependent and vulnerable patients would be pressured – by insurance companies, government payers, HMOs, family members – to choose the least expensive course of treatment. In Oregon and Washington, the only two states where voters have approved assisted suicide, health insurance covers the cost of a deadly prescription, but often will not cover the more expensive treatments desired by those with a terminal diagnosis.
- It would be a slippery slope. The experience in the Netherlands is instructive. Euthanasia was first approved there in 1984 for the competent and terminally ill. But the practice has now been widened to include the non-terminal, the incompetent, those facing chronic depression, even infants born with disabilities. By some accounts, the rate of euthanasia in the Netherlands has increased by 73% over the past eight years.
Let’s pray that the defeat of the Massachusetts referendum signals a “final exit” for assisted suicide proposals here on the east coast.