Thursday, June 13, 2024

Boston Globe: “For Assistance in Dying, Please Press 1”

By Diane Coleman (pictured right) 

Liz Carr’s documentary, “Better Off Dead?”, continues making a difference, serving as a wake up call about the dangers assisted suicide laws pose for people with disabilities. A Boston Globe columnist noted this week:

The most chilling detail in “Better Off Dead?” a new BBC documentary by the English actress and comedian Liz Carr, is an automated telephone message. …

Thank you for calling. The Ontario Medical Assistance in Dying Care Coordination Service is designed to provide information about end of life options in Ontario and referrals for Medical Assistance in Dying. If you would like to speak with an adviser to access the service or get more information, please press 1.

As the Globe column points out, proponents are advocating for passage of assisted suicide laws in the United Kingdom and Massachusetts (as well as other U.S. states). They argue that eligibility is strictly limited to people whose conditions are terminal. However, since eligibility is based on a doctor’s prognosis (currently in the U.S., six months till death), it can be incorrect and the Oregon data from people who wait past 6 months to take the lethal drugs shows that it is incorrect sometimes. 

 Line in the sand vs shifting sands...

The Globe column describes a conversation between Liz Carr and one of the leading proponents of assisted suicide in the UK House of Lords:

In her documentary, Carr interviews one of those advocates, Lord Charles Falconer, who dismisses concerns that the criteria for assisted dying will inevitably be expanded. “Once a legislature decides it’s going to be terminal illness only, it will stick at that,” he says firmly. “The line in the sand for me is terminal illness. It goes no further than that.”

But the thing about sand, as Carr observes tartly, is that it shifts.

It certainly shifted in Canada. When MAID took effect in 2016, its boundaries were clear: Only mentally competent adults dying of a terminal condition could be approved for euthanasia. …

Yet soon the law was expanded to include anyone with a “grievous and irremediable medical condition,” whether fatal or not.

Expansion of assisted suicide laws – often called the “slippery slope” or “incrementalism” – has happened in the U.S. (e.g., waiting periods reduced or eliminated, new types of lethal drug prescribers allowed) but more slowly than in some countries. Unlike countries which legalized assisted suicide nationwide, proponents in the U.S. were essentially forced by the Supreme Court to enact bills state-by-state following the Glucksberg decision. Proponents are likely hoping that the number of states with assisted suicide laws will reach “critical mass” soon, but judging by their hesitation to support the outrageous California expansion bill SB 1196 earlier this year, they don’t think they are “there” yet.

The Globe column also gave credit to disability activists' opposition to these bills.

Among the most eloquent opponents of assisted-suicide laws are disabled activists who fear that once people are allowed to seek a doctor’s help in ending their life, many will be coerced into doing so. That coercion might come from family members unwilling to bear the strain of long-term medical care when assisted suicide is a cheap alternative. It might come from insurance companies refusing to reimburse the cost of lifesaving treatments once legalization lets them offer aid in dying as a covered benefit instead. It may come from physicians, many of whom, recent research shows, underestimate the quality of life of individuals with significant disabilities.

The Globe has had over ten years to observe the successful advocacy of John Kelly and Second Thoughts MA which is based in Boston. Hopefully more news outlets will take notice of the important work disability advocates are doing in many states and nationally on this issue. Medically assisted suicide is not part of healthcare and is not a progressive social cause. Give this issue the Second Thoughts it deserves.