By Jennifer Popik, JD, Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics
On an election night with many surprises, one race is particularly welcome to those who oppose doctor-prescribed suicide. In a Maryland gubernatorial election upset, Republican Larry Hogan, who opposes its legalization, defeated Democrat Lt. Governor Anthony Brown, who had publicly stated a willingness to consider it. Until Tuesday, Brown had appeared poised to take the governorship.
Compassion and Choices, the major national group that advocates legalizing assisting suicide, had its eye on Maryland as a potential state to implement a dangerous doctor-prescribed suicide law.
The laws Compassion and Choices promote have no requirement that a physician verify if the patient is suffering from mental illness, nor do the laws adequately protect against pressure being applied to push those with disabilities and older people into suicide. The laws of nearly every state, including Maryland, currently make it a crime to assist a suicide.
According to “Candidates for Maryland governor differ on education support, assisted suicide,” an October 24 article in the Catholic Standard, written by Mark Zimmermann
Hogan said he would oppose any efforts to legalize assisted suicide in the state. “I believe in the sanctity of human life, and I believe a physician’s role is to save lives, not terminate them,” he said.
In sharp contrast:
[I]n his interview with the Catholic journalists, Brown said he opposed an assisted suicide ban when he served as a Maryland state delegate, because “I believe fundamentally that patients, people in a relationship with their provider, their doctor, are best equipped to make decisions about their health and their life.”
This race was extremely important in light of the national attention given to the highly publicized case of Brittany Maynard, a 29- year-old with brain cancer who recently took her life under Oregon’s assisted suicide law. Maynard, from California, had relocated to Oregon in order to utilize its doctor prescribed suicide law.
While doctor-prescribed suicide is against the law in nearly every state, Oregon, Washington, and Vermont have laws that authorize the practice under certain circumstances. (Additionally, the Supreme Court of Montana interpreted its law to make “consent” of the victim a defense in cases of homicide. A lower court in New Mexico struck its existing protective law. The New Mexico case is currently being appealed.)
In the states where doctor-prescribed suicide is legal and records are kept, most people seek suicide not because they are experiencing pain from illness, but because they feel like they are becoming a “burden” or losing autonomy.
Compassion and Choices promotes these dangerous laws, which are riddled with legal problems surrounding enforcement. These laws do not offer a patient “dignity” but only abandonment from health care workers and family who are supposed to care for patients and loved ones in these dire times. The “right to die” rapidly becomes a “duty to die.”
More on how so-called “safeguards” fail in the states can be found here.
Beginning next year once new legislatures meet, there will a multi-state push to legalize euthanasia. While the Maryland governor-elect has a position against the dangerous practice of doctor-prescribed suicide, that state may still be a target of the death advocates. It is important to begin to educate your friends and family that suicide laws put vulnerable populations at risk.