Gushing profile of “Compassion and Choices” offers important insights into leading proponent of physician-assisted suicide

By Dave Andrusko

Barbara Coombs Lee

Barbara Coombs Lee

I’m beginning to think USA Today is the unofficial in-house publication of Compassion and Choices–formerly (and more honestly) known as the Hemlock Society. But the flip side for those of us committed to confronting and fending off the physician-assisted suicide movement is that in addition to gushy, free publicity for C&C, these stories offer insights straight from the horse’s mouth.

Remember back in April, prior to California legalizing physician-assisted suicide, when C&C executive director Barbara Coombs Lee laid out her real agenda in a story published in USA Today?

Both Oregon and Washington found that participants had three major concerns: loss of autonomy, diminishing ability to engage in the activities that make life enjoyable, and loss of dignity. Meanwhile, only about a third of patients in both states were concerned about inadequate pain control.

“It’s not as simple as pain,” Coombs Lee said. “Everyone gets to identify their own definition of suffering.” [Emphasis mine.]

Then, just a couple of days ago, USA Today wrote a flattering profile of the organization that was soon reposted by the always sympathetic Kaiser Health News.

Besides all the celebratory language about new volunteers and new enthusiasm and the introduction next year of more “aid in dying” bills, what did we learn from Phil Galewitz’s story?

#1. “As more states take up the aid-in-dying issue, [national political advocacy director Jessica] Grennan said her group will continue using individual stories to educate the public and lawmakers.” In plain English, “Compassion & Choices is embracing that lesson as its campaign expands.”

What lesson? That Brittany Maynard’s story was absolutely instrumental to C&C winning in California–and that stories just like hers will be exploited–and distorted–to the max.

#2. The power and reach of George Soros. According to Galewitz, in the 2013-204 fiscal year, contributions and grants to C&C reached $17.1 million. A $2 million contribution came from billionaire financier George Soros’ Open Society Foundations.

#3. Back to Maynard. We read

Compassion & Choices connected with Maynard through a friend, and then worked to publicize her story, assisting in producing two widely-watched video interviews on YouTube and helping line up a People magazine article that put her on the cover shortly before her death at age 29.

It would be difficult to exaggerate the impact of all three, particularly the People magazine cover, in softening up the public. Young, beautiful, terminally ill, the only “solution” was to move from the (then) hard-hearted California to the most death-affirming climes of Oregon.

That it was a solution to nothing; that the law’s passage all but put the bulls-eye on millions of vulnerable people; and that the change in the law was opposed by virtually all the disability rights groups gets ignored.

#4. Back to the money. Galewitz’s story lays out how C&C was able in 2014 and 2015 to “spent $150,000 on online advertising and other types of outreach, and $500,000 on focus groups, polling and other efforts to sway lawmakers and public opinion in the state, the group said.” C&C also “submitted sympathetic opinion articles to major newspapers”–effectively millions of dollars of in-kind contributions. And lastly

#5. Re-framing the language. It’s always about language, redefining clear language into gauzy verbiage that beautifies the ugliness. Galewitz writes that C&C won the battle over how to label physician-assisted suicide.

Compassion & Choices argues that “aid in dying” is the most neutral term to describe measures that some advocates call “death with dignity” and some opponents label “assisted suicide.” The group insists assisted suicide does not accurately describe terminally ill, but mentally competent, people who request life-ending medication that must be self-administered. The Associated Press Stylebook, widely used by news media, advises laws such as California’s be described as “medically assisted suicide” and allowing “the terminally ill to end their own lives with medical assistance.”

It’s not surprising that after unfairly bringing up the bill during a special legislative session that was convened to address California Medicaid budget, and winning, C&C is brimming over with confidence–and even more money.

But it is equally unsurprising that everywhere C&C will launch its campaign, the anti-physician-assisted coalition will be there to tell the truth.

Tough row to hoe?

Sure, but that’s nothing new. The anti-life forces have always had the money and the media.

But we have you!