In 2014, 29-year-old cancer patient Brittany Maynard received national attention after she announced her plans to kill herself under Oregon’s assisted suicide law. Maynard found out she had stage II glioblastoma multiforme and had up to ten years to live. However, after she had surgery, doctors found out that she had the most deadly form of brain cancer, stage IV glioblastoma multiforme. The cancer usually kills its victims in a matter of months.
Oregon is one of five states, along with New Mexico, Montana, Washington , and Vermont, that allow assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act passed in 1997 and has allowed for 1,173 prescriptions, with 752 deaths resulting from access of the medication.
After Brittany’s diagnosis, she decided that she wanted to move from her California home to Oregon so that she could have access to the “death with dignity” prescription. Tragically, on November 2nd she took her own life with a lethal dose of phenobarbital.
Now in a new op-ed in the LA Times, reporter Karen Klein shared more about the “right to die” battle being waged in California since Maynard’s death. Klein says that she support assisted suicide legislation; however, she doesn’t support the language in California’s bill (SB 128) because it permits patients who’ve committed suicide to say on their death certificate that they died from natural causes.
To be clear, I strongly believe in the right of the terminally ill to make their own decisions about how and when to meet death, when they have been told they have no more than six months to live. So does The Times editorial board. But I also am an advocate of facts—not distorting the wording on public documents so that they will forever tell a false story of the cause of death. And we should not shy away from accurate words. Suicide means the deliberate taking of one’s own life before it is claimed by other forces. It might be for good reasons—such as knowing that the few months lying ahead would involve unacceptable levels of deterioration. But I’d rather not see us cancel out accurate words and replace them with jargon.”
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It’s true that the word carries stigma, which is why so many other words have gone by the wayside. The answer should be to remove the stigma, not the word itself. Perhaps we need a “justifiable suicide” category just as there is “justifiable homicide.”
The wording of the bill, and of the arguments around it, show the mushy territory that the right-to-death movement is trying to negotiate by evading the word suicide. If someone has a terminal illness and ends his or her life earlier through another means than lethal drugs, is that suicide? Only physician-assisted suicide makes it not suicide? Even if the person wanted to live and never would have taken such an act without the diagnosis?
Surely we can deal with death certificates without keeping the truth off them. People often die of conditions that are related to an underlying illness, though those conditions are not the actual illness. Such certificates could read, “suicide by lethal prescription, as a result of (disease here).”
The legislation should pass. Most Californians support it, and for those who don’t believe in physician-assisted suicide, the bill would protect their right to die with dignity in their own way. But the wording should be changed. The full truth still matters.
As LifeNews previously reported, if passed, California’s assisted suicide bill would require doctors to lie about the cause of death in assisted suicide. A board member from the Disabilities Rights Education & Defense Fund Inc., Ann Cupolo Freeman, explains the other problems with the legislation.
She said, “No assisted-suicide ‘safeguard’ can ever protect against coercion. In this era of managed care, will those living with a disability and the seriously ill be more likely offered lethal prescriptions in place of medical treatment? A prescription for 100 Seconal tablets costs far less than most medical treatments, especially considering the cost of long-term care for someone living with a disability.”
She concluded, “There would be no one there to know whether or not a patient changes her mind or decides that she isn’t ready to die. There would be no one there to know if the individual has taken the pills on her own or if someone else put the lethal dose in a feeding tube.”