Thursday, March 1, 2012

Massachusetts Assisted-Suicide Initiative Fact Check: The Baloney Meter is Running High

Margaret Dore, Esq.
March 1, 2012
1.  Legalization will Empower the Government

Proponents claim that legalizing assisted suicide will keep the government out of people's lives.  The opposite is true.

Fact check:  In Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal, legalization has allowed the Oregon Health Plan, a government entity, to steer people to suicide.  The most well known cases involve Barbara Wagner and Randy Stroup.  Each wanted treatment.  The Plan denied coverage and steered them to suicide by offering to cover the cost of their suicides instead.  See  See Susan Donaldson James, "Death Drugs Cause Uproar in Oregon," ABC News, August 6, 2008; and "Letter noting assisted suicide raises questions," KATU TV, July 30, 2008.

2.  The Initiative Allows Someone Else to Administer the Lethal Dose

Proponents claim that only the patient may administer the lethal dose.  This is not true.

Fact check:  The initiative (H.3884) states that patients "may" self-administer the lethal dose. There is no language stating that administration “must” be by self-administration.  "Self-administer" is also a specially defined term that allows someone else to administer the lethal dose to the patient.  See here.

3.  An Heir is Allowed to Witness the Lethal Dose Request

Proponents claim that the lethal dose request form must be "independently witnessed" by two people.  This is not true. 

Fact check:  The initiative, Sections 3 and 21, provides that one of two witnesses on the lethal dose request form cannot be a patient’s heir or other person who will benefit financially from the patient's death; the other witness can be an heir or other person who will benefit financially from the death.

4.  Substantial Compliance

Proponents claim that the initiative has "strict safeguards" to protect patients.  The initiative, however, only requires "substantial compliance" with its provisions.  Section 18(1)(a) states:  "A person who substantially complies in good faith with provisions of this chapter shall be deemed to be in compliance with this chapter." 

5.  Assisted Suicide is a Recipe for Elder Abuse

Proponents claim that the initiative is safe, which is not true.

Fact check: The initiative does not require witnesses at the death.  Without disinterested witnesses, the opportunity is created for an heir, or someone else who will benefit financially from the death, to administer the lethal dose to the patient without the patient's consent.  Even if he struggled, who would know?  

6.  Patients are not Necessarily Dying

Proponents imply that the initiative only applies to people in their "final days."  This is untrue.

Fact check:  See Nina Shapiro, "Terminal Uncertainty — Washington's new 'Death with Dignity' law allows doctors to help people commit suicide — once they've determined that the patient has only six months to live. But what if they're wrong?," Seattle Weekly, January 14, 2009; and Jeanette Hall, "She pushed for legal right to die, and - thankfully - was rebuffed," Boston Globe, October 4, 2011.
7.  Assisted Suicide is a Wedge Issue

Proponents deny that assisted suicide is a "wedge issue" to legalize direct euthanasia of non-terminal people.

Fact check:  In Washington state, where assisted suicide has been legal since 2009, there has been a proposal to expand Washington's law to direct euthanasia for non-terminal people.  See Brian Faller, "
Perhaps it's time to expand Washington's Death with Dignity Act," The Olympian, November 16, 2011.

8.  Legal Assisted Suicide Threatens People with Disabilities 

Proponents claim that people with disabilities are not at risk from legalization of assisted suicide, which is untrue.

Fact check:  Disability rights groups such as Not Dead Yet oppose assisted suicide as a threat to their lives.  In Oregon and Washington, official government forms for assisted suicide acts in those states promote disability as a reason to commit suicide.[1]  People with disabilities are thereby devalued.  In 2009, there was a proposed assisted suicide bill in New Hampshire that squarely applied to people with disabilities.[2]  If the initiative were to be passed now, people with disabilities see themselves as potentially next in line under a future expansion of that law.  As noted above, there has already been a proposal in Washington state to expand its law to direct euthanasia for non-terminal people. 

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[1]  See e.g. "Oregon Death with Dignity Act Attending Physician Follow-up Form," question 15, providing seven suggested answers as to why there was a lethal dose request.  Some of the answers are written in terms of disability being an acceptable reason to kill yourself.  These answers include:  "[A] concern about . . . the loss of control of bodily functions."
[2]  Stephen Drake and Not Dead Yet, "New Hampshire Poised to Redefine "Terminally Ill" - to PWDs and others for Assisted Suicide Eligibility," January 30, 2009 (regarding New Hampshire's 2009 assisted suicide bill, HB 304, which applied to people with disabilities, people with HIV/AIDS and other non-dying people).