A woman in California held a euthanasia party celebrating her decision to take her own life before becoming one of the first people under California’s assisted suicide law to kill herself with a lethal cocktail. The party is upsetting to pro-life advocates who see it as a celebrating of death as a solution for those who are considered by society to be too old or too ill.
In early July, Betsy Davis emailed her closest friends and relatives to invite them to a two-day party, telling them: “These circumstances are unlike any party you have attended before, requiring emotional stamina, centeredness and openness.”
And just one rule: No crying in front of her.
The 41-year-old artist with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, held the gathering to say goodbye before becoming one of the first Californians to take a lethal dose of drugs under the state’s new doctor-assisted suicide law for the terminally ill.
“For me and everyone who was invited, it was very challenging to consider, but there was no question that we would be there for her,” said Niels Alpert, a cinematographer from New York City.
“The idea to go and spend a beautiful weekend that culminates in their suicide — that is not a normal thing, not a normal, everyday occurrence. In the background of the lovely fun, smiles and laughter that we had that weekend was the knowledge of what was coming.”
More than 30 people came to the party at a home with a wraparound porch in the picturesque Southern California mountain town of Ojai, flying in from New York, Chicago and across California.
Promoting assisted suicide has very real concerns, as the report warned.
Opponents of the law warn it could become a way out for people who are uninsured or fearful of high medical bills.
Marilyn Golden of the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, said her heart goes out to anyone dealing with a terminal illness, but “there are still millions of people in California threatened by the danger of this law.”
The West Coast state became the fourth in the U.S. to legalize deadly doctor-prescribed suicides in October, following Oregon, Washington and Vermont. Euthanasia advocates pushed for the legislation by using the tragic story of Brittany Maynard, a young woman who had terminal brain cancer. A California native, Maynard moved to Oregon where she committed doctor-prescribed suicide in November 2014.
The California bill is modeled after Oregon, which, in 1994, became the first state in the nation to legalize doctor-prescribed suicide. The deadly procedure involves a doctor prescribing a lethal dose of medication to an adult patient who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Proponents argue that such laws are necessary to provide “compassionate aid in dying for terminally ill patients” and point to safeguards similar to Oregon, but the rhetoric obfuscates the real truth.
Disability rights groups, many in the medical community, pro-lifers and others are upset by the new law because of the potential for horrendous abuses of human life. One of their concerns is that doctors are not required to be present when the patient takes the deadly medicine; therefore, there is no way of knowing whether the person is taking the medicine of their own free will.
Carol Tobias of National Right to Life previously pointed out that the law “shows a blatant disregard for the lives of California’s medically vulnerable citizens and sends a message to these citizens that their lives are less worthy to be lived.”
“It is a well-established fact that nearly every terminally ill patient who desires death is suffering from treatable depression,” Tobias said. “In Oregon, fewer than 6% of patients have been referred for psychiatric evaluation before obtaining life-ending drugs.”
The California law requires that patients be mentally competent to be approved for doctor-prescribed suicide; however, psychiatric evaluations are not required.
Profit-driven motives of families, doctors, insurance companies and the state also are concerns. Assisted suicide is cheaper than many medical treatments for the terminally ill and disabled. In Oregon, there have been several cases of cancer patients being pushed toward assisted suicide because it was cheaper than the medical treatment they needed.
At least one California doctor is planning to make a business of helping people commit suicide. The Mercury News reports Dr. Lonny Shavelson is ready to welcome assisted suicide patients to his Bay Area office on Thursday. His new office is focused solely on “helping” patients kill themselves through the new law, according to the report.
Disability rights advocate Marilyn Golden said Shavelson’s new practice is alarming. She told the newspaper that the law puts the poor, the elderly and others at risk of coercion and abuse.
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“How dogged are they (doctors) going to be in their pursuit of solutions that address the patient’s underlying reasons for requesting death?” Golden said. “If they go all the way to the nth degree of assisting that person, that’s terrific. But it’s worrisome to see people advertising themselves for this, unless they plan on talking everybody out of it by getting them services.”
Euthanasia advocates already are dropping hints about forcing Catholic hospitals to comply with the deadly new law in the name of “access” to “end of life options.” According to the Religion News Service:
The next step, said Matt Whitaker, Compassion & Choices state director for Oregon and California, is to ensure access in a state where the two largest faith-based health care systems, Catholic hospitals and Adventist Care hospitals, have announced they will not participate.
Other large California systems, such as Kaiser Permanente and the Sutter Medical Foundation, the two largest HMOs in the state, are setting up procedures for doctors who say they are willing to aid patients seeking this option.
The law currently has conscience and religious exceptions for medical professionals who are morally opposed to assisted suicide. However, future measures forcing hospitals to offer or refer patients for assisted suicide are plausible. California recently began forcing pro-life pregnancy centers to advertise abortions.
Ironically, the bill was passed during a special session of the California State Legislature, which was originally called to address cost savings for the state’s MediCal program. Indeed, there are many who would see doctor-prescribed suicide as a “cost-savings” measure. Writing about the bill’s passage in The New York Times, Ian Lovett included an observation by Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, director of the medical ethics program at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine:
…[Kheriaty] said that low-income and underinsured patients would inevitably feel pressure to end their own lives in some cases, when the cost of continued treatment would be astronomical compared with the cost of a few lethal pills.