Idaho Assisted Suicide Ban Helps Elderly, Disabled, Patients

Opinion   |   Bill Saunders   |   Apr 13, 2011   |   4:51PM   |   Boise, ID

During the ongoing debate over the federal budget, abortion policy has taken front and center stage.  While this development is positive for the battle to protect new life, developments in the law to protect life at its twilight have largely gone noticed. 

Nonetheless, an event of great significance occurred on Tuesday, April 5th, when Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter signed a bill to prohibit assisted suicide in Idaho.   Idaho joined 36 states that have statutorily criminalized assisted suicide.  While assisted suicide had previously been a “common law” crime in Idaho, pro-assisted suicide organizations recently launched an effort in the state to garner acceptance for “aid in dying,” a euphemism for physician-assisted suicide.

Groups like “Compassion & Choices,” formerly the Hemlock Society, saw an opportunity to advance their pro-death agenda in September, 2010 when the Idaho Attorney General’s office concluded that Idaho has no law criminalizing assisted suicide, and that prosecuting someone for assisted suicide under the common law would face substantial obstacles.  Kathryn L. Tucker, the Director of Legal Affairs for Compassion & Choices, disingenuously argued that the statement in Idaho’s Medical Consent and Natural Death Act – that it “does not make legal, and in no way condones, euthanasia, mercy killing, or assisted suicide or permits an affirmative or deliberate act or omission to end life . . .” – “does not apply to aid in dying.”

However, “aid in dying” and “death with dignity” are merely euphemisms for physician-assisted suicide.  In fact, these terms are not recognized by the medical community and are simply used by suicide advocates to mask what they advocate.

Fortunately for Idaho’s most vulnerable citizens, Senator Russell M. Fulcher and Representative Clifford R. Bayer introduced SB 1070 to answer the question, once and for all, whether assisted suicide, by any name, is a crime in Idaho.  However, have no doubt; advocates for assisted suicide remain on the move.  Legislation was introduced this year in at least five states – Hawaii, Montana, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts – to legalize assisted suicide.  Meanwhile, three states considered bills to prohibit the practice – Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.  So far, Idaho is the only state that has enacted a law this year.

It may be challenging to find a national news story on Idaho’s new law; however, many Americans are very concerned about the assisted-suicide / Euthanasia movement.  In the last two weeks I have spoken in the Northeast and the South about the dangers of legalizing assisted suicide and why it is not a compassionate answer to the suffering that many face at the end of life.

We should eliminate the suffering, not the patient. Advances in palliative care make this eminently possible, but first doctors have to be properly trained in it – and in diagnosing and treating clinical depression, which usually underlies requests for “aid in dying.”

At Americans United for Life, we have a model “Pain Medicine Education Act,” which is largely adopted from the Model Guidelines (1998) and Model Policy (2004) for the Use of Controlled Substances for the Treatment of Pain suggested by the Federation of State Medical Licensing Boards.  Our Act addresses the need for better education and training for health care providers to help patients receive adequate pain management.

Our focus should be on improving the lives of the disabled, elderly, and ill – not ending their lives.  Americans who recognize this fact are raising their voices, as the new law in Idaho clearly demonstrates.