An anonymous person once wrote, “Never knock on Death’s door. Ring the doorbell and run. Death hates that.”
In Connecticut, we are having a debate about knocking on Death’s door. The General Assembly is expected to consider a bill this session that would allow doctors to prescribe lethal medications that would help terminally ill patients to take their lives — assisted suicide.
At first blush, it might seem sensible or even compassionate. But on careful review, which these matters demand, Connecticut would be better served by continuing to reject assisted suicide as a treatment for what ails our health care system.
Certainly, nobody wants to unnaturally extend the lives of people who don’t want treatment. No advocate, for or against assisted suicide, would presume to increase unwanted medical treatment. That is not the issue. But instead of licensing doctors to prescribe suicide as a cure for over-treatment, let’s prepare them better with training to reduce excessive tests, treatments and procedures. Ways to remove stigmas toward hospice care, which saves money and is underused in Connecticut, should also be explored.
The people among us who depend daily on others for personal and medical care, feeding and cleaning, pain relief and medication, need our help. They need us to be their advocate. Their experiences tell them that current biases against their treatment and a penchant for neglect will increase as doctors view death as just another medical option. To people who agitate for assisted suicide, I say, any control you may gain from legal immunities to assist your suicide will pale compared to the terror created by giving doctors a license to kill. Doctors who, because of natural biases, may, out of compassion, view you as … better off dead.
Current state law makes assisting suicide illegal, though not suicide. Get it, you can kill yourself, the state can’t stop you. What we are really talking about is giving immunity to the people you may want to help you, and that is the rub. “Help” in one case is “hurt” in others. It comes in many forms and for some it includes undue pressure from heirs, the natural prejudice of doctors against disability or discomfort, cost saving measures, or flat out fraud and murder. Do we really want to invite the government to assess these private moments?
Our current system protects the vulnerable against this type of “help” while still providing deference to people at the end of life who can seek palliative care, sedation and refuse medical treatment, among other options.
In Connecticut, wide prosecutorial discretion makes arrests of doctors or others involved with dying patients uncommon. In fact, there is no proven case of overzealous prosecutorial conduct in the state related to assisted suicide. Our laws are sound and have provided protection for vulnerable people who can’t advocate or protect themselves. They don’t just protect people with disabilities, but also wealthy seniors, of which Connecticut has many.
Oregon, which has legalized assisted suicide, offers examples of abuses. Thomas Middleton, an Oregon father of three who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, transferred his estate and then moved into the home of Tami and Kevin Sawyer. That month he died by assisted suicide and two days later, Tami placed his home for sale. She was indicted on criminal mistreatment and aggravated theft and is now serving a nine-year sentence for her crimes.
In another case, Kate Cheney was “doctor shopped” by her daughter till they found a clinician who determined that Kate “may be influenced by her family’s wishes” but still gave a prescription for deadly drugs. Barbara Wagner and Randy Stroup received notices from their state-sponsored health plan that life-saving treatments would not be covered, “but that it would cover palliative, or comfort care, including, if [they] chose, doctor-assisted suicide.”
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In Belgium, where euthanasia is king, people with depression, disfigurement and blindness are offered death inducing drugs upon request. Now, as of last week, “competent” terminally ill children can seek assisted suicide, if, according to the law, they fully understand their choice and have their doctors’ and parents’ approval. When suicide becomes widely licensed by the government, any initial restrictions or well-intended controls erode over time.
Connecticut was the first state in the country to license a palliative care center. Wouldn’t it be progressive, if instead of licensing our doctors to prescribe death as a treatment, we closed the door to assisted suicide and focused the government’s efforts toward state-of-the-art palliative care, care for caregivers and reducing abuse of the elderly? That is a discussion worth having.
LifeNews Note: Leslie Wolfgang of Waterbury is a lawyer and a member of the Family Institute of Connecticut.