Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Colorado Springs Gazette Editorial Board: "Vote 'no' on more suicide"


Proposition 106 would establish the assisted suicide trade for doctors willing to participate. An out-of-state special interest, funded mostly by billionaire George Soros, has marketed this measure as a form of compassion.

Suicide rates are a crisis in Colorado, and a poorly written plan to legitimize these tragedies raises big concerns.

Last week began with another teen suicide in Colorado Springs, where last year 15 teens killed themselves and doubled 2014's suicide rate. Throughout Colorado, we lost 1,000 kids to suicide in 2015.

Suicide is climbing among all demographics throughout the state, as reported in May by The Denver Post. "Colorado's suicide rate, one of the highest in the country, is climbing, with 19.4 suicides for 100,000 residents," the Post reported.

USA Today reports "veteran suicide rates remain high seven years after the rate of suicides by soldiers more than doubled and the Army's effort to reduce the tragic pace."

In a state saddened and confounded by rising teen and adult suicide rates, it seems reckless to pass a law that legalizes self-inflicted death. Imagine another Colorado teenager facing what seem like insurmountable problems. The teen contemplates suicide and calculates the fact grandma ended her life with pills prescribed by a doctor. The law, a doctor and a beloved mentor have inadvertently told this child how suicide is a good way out.

Our concerns extend far beyond the likelihood this will increase suicides among those who are not terminally ill.

Proposition 106 says to qualify for assisted suicide, one must be of sound mind. Yet, nothing in the law requires even a cursory psychological evaluation. The will to die by prescription could be related to a minor bout with depression, easily treated if properly diagnosed. A study in Oregon found 66 percent of people who chose to end their lives did so because of the loss of a will to live, not excessive pain as this bill's sponsors would have you believe.

The law would require a diagnosis by two doctors, who can be partners, that says the prospective suicide patient has only six months to live. Most people know of someone who has outlived a monthslong death prognosis by years or even a decade or more. A Johns Hopkins University study found doctor mistakes are common. They are the third-leading cause of death in the United States. More than 250,000 Americans die each year from medical errors.

"It is nearly impossible to predict the course of an illness six months out, and many patients given such prognoses live full, rewarding lives long past six months," wrote Dr. William Toffler, professor of family medicine at Oregon Health & Science University.

Oregon legalized doctor-assisted suicide in 1997, and about 1,000 people have used the law to die.

"I have seen firsthand how the law has changed the relationship between doctors and patients, some of whom now fear that they are being steered toward assisted suicide," Toffler wrote.

A greater concern are those with serious financial incentives to steer old, ill relatives or business partners toward death. Elders who control estates and bank accounts, which will be handed down upon death, may receive encouragement to "die with dignity" - meaning a massive dose of barbiturates to be self-administered quickly, no doctor present, and typically chased with alcohol.

The law contains no oversight provisions to protect individuals from coerced or even forced consumption of suicide pills. Incredibly, it grants full immunity to anyone present for the suicide. That means a confused, weak person could unwillingly receive a dose of pills from someone protecting an estate from the potential costs of long-term hospice or medical bills.

Institutional pressure to die is almost guaranteed. Insurance companies and the state's money-challenged Medicaid plan have every reason to avoid years of treatment and prescription costs associated with terminally ill and elderly patients.

Look no further than Oregon. Routine notices tell Oregon doctors a variety of important treatments and drugs are not covered by the state's Medicaid program. Yet, they are happy to pay for "assisted" suicide.

"Supporters claim physician-assisted suicide gives patients a choice, but what sort of a choice is it when life is expensive but death is free?" Toffler asks.

"Death with Dignity" sounds like compassion. Evil is often disguised as good. Few among us want dying patients to suffer needlessly against their will. This ill-conceived proposal is not the answer. It stands to do far more harm than good.

Vote no on Proposition 106, a dangerous idea that can only endanger vulnerable patients and exacerbate Colorado's suicide crisis.

the gazette editorial board