All of us will, at some time, face the death of our elders, our loved ones, and ultimately ourselves.
Given medical advances, a growing percentage of us will confront life-or-death decisions –– decisions that were once in the hands of fate.
Although it may be an unpleasant subject, we owe it to ourselves to anticipate and face the end of life. This delicate process should be left to the individual and the family, not the state.
In that vein, California legislators once again blundered, hindering our reputation as an enlightened, forward-looking state. They failed to pass a sensible and hypertechnical bill that would have helped alleviate the suffering of many of California’s terminally-ill patients.
The defeated bill, SB 182, would have provided near-death patients, under certain very restrictive requirements, the option to request a lethal prescription from their doctors. The bill, known as the the End of Life Option Act, would have limited the right to only those candidates with a prognosis of death within six months, as submitted to and verified by a governmental committee.
Multiple safeguards were included in the bill to mitigate fears of potential abuse. It required patients to be “of sound mind,” as determined by doctors and psychologists, in order to make such a request, to speak to at least two doctors about their decision, and to, in the end, take the medication themselves.
The bill included a new felony-level penalty for abuse: forging or altering a lethal drug request. Forcing someone into requesting a lethal drug would likewise be a felony under the new terms of this bill. Both of these new crimes would be enforced by a state-mandated local program.
While one may say that no safeguards are 100 percent foolproof, we must consider the other side of the equation––that many people, especially in their waning years, are suffering unwillingly, inhumanely and unnecessarily. Were it not for the coercive effect of the state, this would not be the case.
In short, SB 182 allowed for a rational, informed, medically sanctioned and deliberate ending of one’s life.
Medical professionals agree. “Americans should enjoy a right guaranteed in the European Declaration of Human Rights––the right not to be forced to suffer,” said Dr. Faye Girsh, president of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies, an international alliance of 52 member organizations from 27 countries.
It is imperative we acknowledge this natural right, according to Girsh. With the defeat of this bill, the state is making intrusive rules over free people’s decisions. There is no overriding state or societal interest in prolonging people’s suffering.
As compared to other laws of a similar nature, the now dormant California bill is fairly modest. It only pertains to a fraction of the terminally ill population. Similar, more ambitious bills have already been passed into law in Oregon, Washington, and Vermont.
For example, The Oregon Death with Dignity Act, in effect since 1997, hasn’t been used recklessly or caused undue suffering, as some doubters allege.
Nearly all Oregonian patients to date, 89.5 percent, died in the comfort of their
own home, the Oregon Public Health Division found. Their reasons for choosing to die were completely reasonable, justifiable and beyond question by any non-fundamentalist perspective.
Cancer patients were the top Death with Dignity users in Oregon, constituting 70 percent of the patient pool. The Oregon Public Health Division found that the most common reasons for the request were “loss of autonomy (91.4 percent), decreasing ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable (86.7 percent), and loss of dignity (71.4 percent).” None of the requests were the consequence of a merely passing, short-term depression.
California communities are also in favor. Hundreds of California voters agree that SB 182 should have passed and should be brought again to a vote at the next opportunity.
According to a government-contracted research firm, nearly seven in ten California voters support the Death with Dignity bill. Eighty-two percent agree with the survey’s statement that, “A terminally ill, mentally competent person should be able to make a private decision to end their own life, in consultation with their family, their faith, and their doctor.”
With such overwhelming support in our own communities and beyond, it is a disgrace that the bill was blocked in committee.
My great aunt has undergone kidney dialysis every other day for the past decade. She lives with daily pain. People like her, in every home across America, should at least have the choice. In a theoretically “free” society, such significant personal decisions must be left to the informed individual and family, rather than the state.