California this week became the fifth and largest U.S. state to legalize physician-assisted suicide — or “aid in dying,” as supporters call it.
“I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain,” Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, wrote in his signing message. “I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn’t deny that right to others.”
But opponents of California’s new law, which will take effect sometime in 2016, warn that it would lead to abuses against poor and vulnerable patients by doctors and insurers.
Is doctor-assisted suicide another California trend the nation should emulate — or resist? Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, weigh in.
Let us grant opponents of California’s “End of Life Option” act this: They are morally serious and well-intentioned people. There’s no need to drag the usual name-calling of politics into this debate. They are simply wrong.
They are wrong, philosophically. They’re not wrong to want to extend life as long and as far as possible, exactly — but they are wrong that the state should create “sound public policy” that prevents anybody else from acting from a different set of convictions.
It can be noble to suffer through the final days and weeks of a terrible disease, yes, and it can be noble for your family to bear with and serve a family member as he or she endures those final moments of life. No one is denying people who make such choices the right to keep making such choices.
It is not noble, however, to require other people — strangers and their families — to endure such agonies. It can be cruel, even if unintentionally so.
They are wrong on the mechanics of the law, as well. Rather than allow assisted suicide, willy-nilly, the law builds in protections so that people who choose to end their lives do so without undue pressure and with time to consider alternatives: “Patients must be terminally ill and mentally sound; they must be capable of administering the medication themselves; and two different doctors must approve it,” The New York Times notes. Furthermore, hospitals and doctors have the option of not administering end-of-life drugs.
Finally, opponents of the law are wrong about the ramifications. California’s law mirrors one that has long been in place in Oregon — experts say there is no evidence of abuse in states with assisted suicide laws.
It’s tough to make “sound public policy” about a person’s most profound, most private moments. Recognizing that they are private, however, is the first step to making sure that policy is, indeed, sound.
The state should not put its seal of approval on suicide. Ever.
And that’s what we’re talking about. Not “death with dignity.” Not “aid in dying.” It’s suicide. Euphemisms will not do.
State-sanctioned, physician-assisted suicide changes the dynamic between doctor and patient, patient and family and family and doctor. California’s law may most likely change everybody’s relationship with his or her insurance company, too.
If you think it’s difficult getting an insurer’s approval for an expensive cancer treatment now, just wait until the adjusters and actuaries begin weighing the high costs of uncertain therapies against the relatively low-cost of a cocktail of suicide drugs. Even merciful palliative care is pricey compared with a handful of pills.
We could labor over the particulars of what’s wrong with California’s law, such as how it includes language protecting doctors from legal liability in case the procedure goes wrong — or goes right for the wrong reason. But the law’s moral and social implications are far more significant.
Legally sanctioned physician-assisted suicide tends to make suicide more acceptable generally. By all means, let’s look at Oregon’s experience. The Beaver State has the second-highest suicide rate in the United States — excluding doctor-assisted suicides. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2013 reported Oregon experienced a 49.3 percent increase in suicides among men and women between the ages of 35 and 64 from 1999-2010, compared to 28 percent nationally. Oregon passed its law in 1997.
And look at what’s happened in Belgium, which passed its assisted suicide law in 2002. There, euthanasia for depressives — not just the terminally ill — is becoming routine.
We’re assured that could never happen here. But if it is “not noble ... to require other people — strangers and their families — to endure such agonies,” are we not telling our loved ones to hasten their exit, lest they remain too much of a burden to us? Must we have a pain-free existence at any cost?
Be assured, assisted suicide is neither compassion nor liberation. It represents the further coarsening of a deeply narcissistic culture.
Ben Boychuk (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Joel Mathis (email@example.com) is associate editor for Philadelphia Magazine. Visit them on Facebook: www.facebook.com/benandjoel.