Saturday, May 9, 2009

Physician Assisted Suicide

In November, Washington State voters passed Initiative 1000 - the Physician Assisted Suicide Law - by a margin of 59% to 41%.  I voted against it.  The idea of allowing doctors to help people kill themselves gives me the heebie-jeebies and an uneasy feeling that by making it legal and acceptable, we are starting down a road that ends in a very bad place.  

I couldn't articulate my feelings - and got into a bit of an argument with Grandmother over the whole thing- until I was directed to the website for Not Dead Yet by a Professor for a school assignment for my Disability and Human Rights class and I started to read the articles and commentaries there.  After spending a lot of time reading all the info on their site I felt relieved that I wasn't being paranoid and bizarre about the whole thing and thought I would try to put into words just exactly why I think legalizing physician assisted suicide is a terrible idea.

The health care system in this country is a for-profit endeavor.  Health insurance companies and executives make money, a lot of money, and if people who have been diagnosed terminally ill are given help to kill themselves then a lot of insurance companies are going to save a lot of money by not having to cover costs for pain management, hospice care and other care designed to make the patient comfortable at the end of their life.

Now all health insurance companies make their profits by collecting premiums and denying whatever benefit coverage they can get away with - end of life or not.  Personally I feel that the entire system is immoral, no one should profit by preventing another person from recieving medical care.  But it strikes me as being even worse for an insurance company to cover the cost for a doctor to kill a terminal patient - regardless of the phrase 'physician assisted suicide' it is a doctor giving their patient a treatment that results in the patient's death, it is the doctor killing their patient - and increase their bottom line by doing so.

People with disabilities are discriminated against every day in this country.  In the media we get the message that it would be better to be dead than to be disabled.  People like Professor Peter Singer say that parents should be allowed to kill their children in infancy if they are expected to grow up with disabilities for the simple reason that infants are "non-persons".  He also says it should be legal to kill older "non-persons with disabilities".  Ironically Professor Singer is also a well-known animal rights activist.  Apparently "non-persons" are different from animals and shouldn't get the benefit of the doubt that animals do.

Please read this article by Harriet McBryde Johnson about her conversation with Professor Singer.  It is ten thousand times better written than anything I could ever hope to write and is truly enlightening.

In a society that devalues the lives of the disabled, a policy legalizing physician assisted suicide is truly troubling.  I can't say it any better than Diane Coleman does in her op-ed article titled "Disabled Group Objects to 'Dignity' of Assisted Suicide, Doubts Motives"...

"Why, disabled people ask, do we see so many news stories lately about the burdens we impose on our caregivers, and so few articles about the nation's ability to provide the long-term care people really need and want?

If the values of liberty dictate that society legalize assisted suicide, then legalize it for everyone who asks for it, not just the devalued, old, ill and disabled.  Otherwise, what looks like freedom is really only discrimination."     ~Diane Coleman

This article was published in the Rocky Mountain News on March 19, 2005.

Some of the people I love the most in the whole world are disabled.  The implications of legalized physician assisted suicide to them is extremely troubling and scares the shit out of me.  No matter how well a law is written, abuses are always possible.  Ask any lawyer, social worker or judge.  And if we, as a society, begin to believe that it is acceptable for doctors to end patients lives, are we starting down a road towards euthanasia for the disabled, infirm or those who are costing us time, money and effort to care for?  Is this a step down that road?

Grandmother is ninety-three and terrified of ending up bedridden for years and years.  She was an enthusiastic supporter of Initiative 1000 and has told me many times that if she becomes bedridden, unable to wash or toilet herself or out of her mind from dementia that she wants us to help her end her life.  I don't know what I would do if it came to that, but I do know that whatever we - her family - do if such a situation arises, we would do it out of love.  It would be the hardest decision any of us would ever have to face in our lives, it would be messy, and it would break our hearts.  And that is the way it should be, not as simple as a doctor writing out a prescription.

Suicide should be difficult, Initiative 1000 makes it easier and that scares me.


Nana said...

I disagree with you, but you've stated the best argument I've heard against it. Having gone through several deaths of elderly people I see the other side. Using heroic measures adds cost and some procedures are extremely painful, when people are better off being left alone. Hospice is very wonderful. It is also extremely expensive, nearly double nursing home cost. Grandma V's was over $12,000/month. I'm not convinced that assisting suicide adds more to the bottom line.

ms. changes pants while driving said...

wow. great argument. i also disagree with you. i would be torn as well...watching someone go through the pain of cancerous tumors, or being someone who goes through the end stages of cancer.

it would be a tough decision, but having the option available...

as far as the health care system, if that's part of the argument, health care companies getting an "out" for patient care... not everyone has health insurance. not every treatment is covered by health insurance companies. people may be racking up their medical bills into the millions for the care they or their loved one needs.

i don't know. i haven't done research.

very interesting, very well written post.

miss you :D

ms. changes pants while driving said...

what about terminally ill cancer patients who refuse treatment?

you got me thinkin', katy. dammit.

Katy said...

Mom, I don't have a problem with families refusing heroic measures for their loved ones at the end of their lives. And Yo, it is legal and every patients absolute right to refuse treatment. I don't know that I even have trouble with loved ones helping someone commit suicide. But making it legal for doctors to kill their patients, that crosses the line for me.

It took me longer to write this than anything else ever has, probably because I have a hard time articulating the feeling in my gut about the whole thing. But I am a reasonable person and can certainly agree to disagree. ;-)

Mariah said...

This is a tough one. I recently watched my grandma die, at times I thought WHY NOT? Why does she have to suffer like this? Assisted suicide sounded good to me. BUT, then I watched her transform into a peaceful place and it became spiritual and MAYBE that is what she needed in order to pass peacefully.

Great post!

MOM #1 said...

Damn, girl, are you gonna be an attorney when you grow up? That was the best argument I've ever heard.

Honestly, I haven't really put a lot of thought into this one, even though it sounds like I need to. I think this is the one thing W didn't bring up while he was Texas governor.

The Hotfessional said...

I want someone to tell me, if I'm ever in the position to want to kill myself "Here, now, listen. If you take 5 of these, they will kill you, but if you only take 2, they'll only dull your pain."

Let it be my decision is all I'm saying.

Jason, as himself said...

Very interesting and insightful, Katy. I'm actually surprised that you take this stance on this issue, but you sure have done your homework on the subject. And you can't really ignore your gut feeling.

I am not strongly for or against it. All I know is that when I watched my mother writhing in pain that could not be calmed with medication, I wish I---or somebody---could have relieved her. Instead she lasted that way for days.

And if I end up in the same situation, I would hope that somebody would help me out.

ms. changes pants while driving said...

yes what the hotfessional said.

Christy said...

Ooooh, I don't know about this now...I think I disagree with you, but I have to say, I didn't know all of these details you've presented. It's definitely not cut-and-dried. In an ideal world, I guess it would be great if patients were in a position to make the decision for themselves--and were allowed to. But when someone is sick, that is often not the case. Great post--you got my wheels're one smart cookie!

Kate said...

It scares me too.