By Jim Towey
Canada and California have laws and health care systems that offer the incapacitated, depressed or terminally ill a death by suicide rather than provide public services and care needed for them to live free and independent lives.
I have long contended that the so-called “right to die” is a right the disabled and elderly poor will get first. Why spend tax dollars for supportive care to allow them to live at home or treat the inevitable depression that often accompanies terminal or chronic illness, if you can simply push them toward the exit. This is compassion?
I wrote previously on how pernicious Canada’s euphemistic “medical assistance in dying,” or MAID law, is. In six short years there has been a ten-fold increase in MAID deaths. The guard rails put in place initially to restrict access to only adults with irremediable, terminal illnesses that are advanced and causing physical and psychological pain, have been torn down. Now persons with disabilities, mental health illnesses, and soon, even minors, are MAID eligible.
Coercion of the weak and socially unconnected inevitably follows. Picture the doctor by the bedside breaking bad news to a patient about a cancer diagnosis and mentioning how the patient’s suffering can end quickly by assisted suicide or euthanasia. Talk about a power differential!
If you want to understand what Canada is doing, an essay written by Bill Gardner, “Death by Referral,” is a must-read. He had throat cancer and wanted treatment; instead, he was offered a suicide cocktail. Fortunately, he had the emotional strength to resist the MAID push, and also the intellectual wherewithal to get pharmaceuticals that extended his life two more years, no thanks to his treating physician. Gardner’s first-person account is a cautionary tale. Canada’s waiting list for mental health services is a month long. Can anyone seriously question the inevitability of widespread, coerced suicides of the depressed and despondent by those who want help, can’t get it and can’t wait?
Most of the MAID deaths in Canada have been among the affluent who want personal freedom at the end of life. While it is not difficult to sympathize with this desire for death on one’s own terms, it simply is not possible to put into place a system for assisted suicide that can accommodate them without coercion for the disabled, elderly poor, the depressed and seriously ill following suit. The financial incentives to withhold care are too great.
Meanwhile, in the U.S.
Unfortunately, America drifts toward Canada’s approach by the day. At present nine states and DC permit assisted suicide. The Hemlock Society, name-changed to Compassion and Choices, continues its campaign to devalue the lives of the disabled and elderly by pushing legalization. This year its efforts failed in Connecticut, Arizona, Florida, and Maryland, but in New York, Nevada, Massachusetts, and Minnesota, they may yet bear poisonous fruit. Recently Vermont’s governor signed a law permitting assisted suicide by non-residents – our country’s only death tourism destination.
Some help may be on the way in federal court. Recently, a landmark lawsuit was filed in California on behalf of persons with disabilities to protect them from being encouraged and helped to die by suicide instead of provided the same mental health and supportive care that others can access. A woman in Berkeley with muscular dystrophy who has quadriplegia, and a U.S. veteran in Oakland who is paralyzed from the neck down from a spinal cord injury, filed the lawsuit in conjunction with advocacy groups like the Institute for Patient’s Rights, Not Dead Yet, and the United Spinal Association.
The plaintiffs believe California’s law violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, and also is unconstitutional. Their arguments on how California discriminates, particularly against historically marginalized communities and people with disabilities, are sound and compelling. Keep an eye on this federal case and learn more about it here.
Do you care?
If you care about the marginalized among us, oppose the government’s easy and cheap way out. Insist government has in place and readily available mental health, palliative care, and supportive services before it imposes a death-by-referral system. Suicide or assisted suicide is never the answer to any problem. Americans have always supported suicide prevention. Why stop now?