Assisted Suicide Laws and Bills are “Riddled with Falsehoods”

Editor’s note. This article was published by Not Dead Yet on April 7.

On March 29, Not Dead Yet New England Regional Coordinator and Second Thoughts Massachusetts Director John Kelly testified against New Hampshire Bill SB426, which would establish an “end-of-life choices study commission.” Using the euphemisms of proponents like Compassion & Choices against the bill, John lists the ways in which the bill is “riddled with falsehoods.”

Excellent opposition testimony was also delivered by doctors Paul Saba and Richard Johnson, and former New Hampshire legislator Nancy Elliott. Below are excerpts from John’s testimony:

John Kelly from Not Dead Yet

John Kelly from Not Dead Yet

Chairman Rowe, Vice-Chairman Hagan, Members of the Committee:

. . . Please reject SB426 because it is riddled with falsehoods. From the words of the commission’s title to its enumerated duties, it’s clear that legalization proponents drafted the bill. It is a stalking horse for the legalization of assisted suicide.

The first falsehood is the phrase “end-of-life.” The committee should know that in current practice, the “end-of-life” is the six-month period following a physician’s terminal diagnosis. Yet of the millions of misdiagnoses every year, many are terminal misdiagnoses. We know this because of the thousands of people who “graduate” from hospice each year. …

Assisted suicide laws turn the best outcome under hospice – proving you weren’t terminal after all – into the worst possible end for people who might live months, years, or decades longer, but are instead persuaded (or coerced) under threat of agonizing death to commit suicide.

There are so many examples of people outliving terminal prognoses, from Ted Kennedy living a year longer than predicted to John Norton of Florence, Mass., who testified before the state legislature that when he was diagnosed with ALS, he would have definitely used assisted suicide were it available. Luckily for John, his family, and everyone who has come to know him, assisted suicide wasn’t state policy, his disease process stopped, and – 60 years later! – he’s urging people to reject these bills. . . .

The second falsehood is illusion of “choices,” the other word in the title of the proposed commission. When people cannot get accurate knowledge about their condition, we cannot speak of “choices.”

We also cannot speak of “choices” –

· When one out of every 10 people over the age of 60 in New Hampshire is estimated to be abused every year, almost always by adult children and caregivers.

· When someone in line to inherit your estate can help sign you up, pick up the prescription, and then take action against you with no questions asked.

· When depressed people with a serious illness who mistakenly think that people will be better off without them get told that “feeling like a burden” is a rational reason to kill yourself.

· When there is no funded homecare, so families worried about the inheritance feel pressure to “choose” assisted suicide. . . .

I was once able-bodied and had an accident, and since then I’ve received many “better dead than disabled” messages, right to my face and through popular culture. My own father wished that I died in the accident. . . .

The third falsehood in this bill is the phrase “aid in dying,” one of Compassion & Choices’ favorite euphemisms for assisted suicide (“Death with Dignity” is the other). It’s not clear exactly what “aid” means. …

“Dying” reflects the fiercely maintained belief of proponents that when people are “reasonably expected” to die within six months, they are in the process of actively dying. …The problem is that this is so often and so clearly untrue. …

[Fourth], according to proponents, … there has never been a case of abuse out in Oregon – that’s right, the first state-run program ever without a case of abuse. The only reason that no abuse is discovered is because the reports are designed that way. The only abuses we know of are ones that somehow make it to the media.

For example, Wendy Melcher died after being given massive doses of barbiturate suppositories by two nurses, one of whom was having an affair with Wendy’s partner. The nurses claimed that Melcher had requested assisted suicide, but there was no doctor’s prescription, Wendy did not self-administer, and the nurses never reported her death to the Oregon Department of Health as an assisted suicide.

Yet instead of referring the nurses to authorities for criminal charges, the state nursing board secretly suspended one nurse’s license for 30 days and placed the other on two years “probation.” It took a reporter’s phone call years later to inform Melcher’s devastated family that she had been killed.

It seems that the very existence of the assisted suicide law turned evidence of a serious crime into an excusable mistake. The Portland Tribune editorialized,

“If nurses — or anyone else — are willing to go outside the law, then all the protections built into the Death With Dignity Act are for naught.”

The fifth falsehood is that “aid in dying” is not assisted suicide. …

Encouraging assisted suicide for some will encourage suicide for all. Suicide contagion is real. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Oregon’s already high suicide rate has increased much more than the national average; from 1999 until 2010, the rate of increase for people age 35-64 was 49% in Oregon versus 28% nationally. …

The sixth falsehood is that assisted suicide is all about pain and suffering. But the five leading reasons reported by prescribing doctors solely deal with psychosocial distress about disability.

First is distress about dependence on other people (“losing autonomy” 92%), second is distress over lost abilities (“less able to engage in activities making life enjoyable” 89%), followed by feelings of shame and perceived/actual loss of social status (“loss of dignity” 79%), distress about needing help with incontinence (“losing control of bodily functions” 50%), and believing that suicide would leave loved ones better off (“burden on family, friends/caregivers” 40%).

Another falsehood is that “choice” belongs only to the individual. It’s a fantasy that other people only want what the individual wants, and completely support whatever the person chooses.

… Here is an example of a man told he was a burden. Oregonian Kathryn Judson wrote of bringing her seriously ill husband to the doctor.

I collapsed in a half-exhausted heap in a chair once I got him into the doctor’s office, relieved that we were going to get badly needed help (or so I thought). To my surprise and horror, during the exam I overheard the doctor giving my husband a sales pitch for assisted suicide. “Think of what it will spare your wife, we need to think of her,” he said, as a clincher….

The lives of non-“terminal” disabled people share many traits with people requesting assisted suicide, but we reject as bizarre and dangerous the notion that personal dignity is somehow lost through reliance on others, or because we are not continent every hour of every day. That’s why for 40 years the disability rights movement has insisted on funded programs to provide necessary personal care attendant (PCA) services for all disabled people, including people disabled by their serious illness.

Assisted suicide laws set up a two-tier system, under which some people get suicide prevention services while others get suicide assistance. The difference between the two groups would be based on value judgments about so-called “quality of life.” Many of us already get told, straight to our face and through medical hostility, that we might be better off dead. Legalized assisted suicide makes that prejudice official policy.

That’s why every leading national disability rights group that has taken a position on assisted suicide has come out against it.

There is no way to come up with a better bill through the “thoughtful and deliberative” process envisioned by sponsor Senator Dan Feltes.

This study commission would be well replaced by a commission that would investigate how best to “help older people in New Hampshire live well.”

…Reject SB426 because it’s dishonest and dangerous. Thank you.