By Dave Andrusko
America is a respected national Catholic journal which I twice wrote for many moons ago. In its November 2 issue, the editors ponder “Euthanasia in California.” Their considerations are worthy elaborating on.
Our readers are already fully aware that Gov. Jerry Brown, after a prolonged wait, decided to sign a law legalizing physician-assisted suicide. He touched all the pro-bases–such as the specter of “dying in prolonged and excruciating pain”–and concluded whether or not he himself would someday want to be “assisted” to die, “ I wouldn’t deny that right to others.”
The editors of America begin by observing that this is a major victory for the “so-called right to die movement.”
In attempting to allow individuals to “die with dignity,” these laws end up devaluing life at all stages and elevate an idea of freedom that is fundamentally at odds with an authentically human understanding of individual dignity in relation with God and community. But there are many other persuasive arguments against assisted suicide laws that deserve a wide hearing. One need not be a Christian or a believer to see the serious problems with laws that legalize a “right to die.” [Emphasis mine.]
The editorial is extremely thoughtful on many levels. Here are just two of the many warnings we do well to heed.
#1. “The scenario presented by Governor Brown”
presents only part of the picture. People who suffer near the end of their lives do not make these critical decisions in a vacuum. Their suffering includes not only physical pain but sometimes also despair over the absence of people to depend on or resources they need. This law does nothing to address that lack of support; indeed it suggests that the right response is not to ask for help in bearing suffering but rather for assistance in removing the perceived burden their lives have become.
This cannot be emphasized enough. Physical pain ranks well down the list of reasons people offer as explanations why they want “help” to die. They are deeply distressed that they are a burden–and often this is just a reflection of the message sent to them by others. They need support, the kind of support that is straightforward and not hedged in any way.
#2. “California’s new law was passed against the strong resistance of the disability rights community.”
These advocates have argued time and again that the introduction of assisted suicide laws into a for-profit health care system is a dangerous experiment. The plain fact is that it is less expensive to administer life-ending drugs than to pay for pain management or extended hospice care. It should give us pause that California’s End-of-Life Option Act was passed while the legislature was considering ways to address funding shortfalls for Medi-Cal, the state’s health insurance program for the poor. In that effort, they were unsuccessful. As the state’s Catholic bishops pointed out, California’s poorest residents do not have access to palliative care, yet now they have the right to end their lives.
This is not some scenario spun out of whole cloth. We have written many times about Oregon resident Barbara Wagner who had recurrent lung cancer. A Medicaid administrator denied her payment for chemotherapy but assured her that her assisted suicides would be fully covered.
The forces behind physician-assisted suicide, most notably “Compassion & Choices,” feel they are on a roll. Didn’t matter that legislative chicanery was used to give the bill another chance to pass, it passed.
The message is to clear to the rest of us. We have thwarted dozens of attempts in other states to open the floodgates.
Compassion & Choices will attempt to use California as a springboard to more victories. That requires even greater diligence on our part.
Challenge extended, challenge taken.