Editor’s note. This is excerpted from testimony given April 19th by disability rights activist Michael Reynolds from “Not Dead Yet” to the Maine legislature concerning LD 347 and 1066, two assisted suicide bills. He was addressing State Sen. Eric Brakey and state Rep. Patricia Hymanson. This was originally published by Not Dead Yet.
My name is Michael Reynolds, I live in Lewiston, ME and strongly urge you to vote to oppose LD 347 and 1066, both laws that would permit assisted suicide in this state. As a disabled activist who has worked on this issue on state, national, and (strangely) even internationally, this law with its sugarcoated title “Death with Dignity,” has been defeated eight times previously in this state, and is only before you today due to a non-profit . . . funded by out of state money, using a flawed law that has been disastrous in Oregon, with zero oversight if a doctor doesn’t use safeguards in the bill. In fact, why have safeguards if doctors and the providers are given blanket immunity, and a teenager in our state would face greater penalties possessing Cannabis than a licensed medical doctor would with a botched assisted suicide?
And “Terminally ill” certainly has an interesting definition in LD 347, one that states that a person qualifies for a terminal prescription if the condition is “an incurable and irreversible disease that will, within reasonable medical judgment, result in death in six months.” There is no mention of whether the condition can be controlled by medication, nor any exclusion for an individual whose condition can be controlled by medication. People who have epilepsy, . . . or even have diabetes could be theoretically allowed to die under the proposed language in LD 347.
Additionally, in the [Oregon state Death With Dignity Act] report . . . diabetes was given as an underlying terminal condition that, in Oregon, made the patient eligible for a lethal prescription. These two laws undermine the basic values of community and inclusion in our state.
In 2016, Oregon Public Health Division, “Oregon Death with Dignity Act: 2015 Data Summary,” a state publication that provides detailed analysis of how the state’s law is used year to year, published that less than 4% of patients who received a lethal dose of medication were referred to a psychological evaluation. [This makes] the risks of allowing someone with uncontrolled mental illness or depression not only potential fears, they are actual realities in states where “choice” for “terminally ill” individuals have been law for twenty years.
Additionally since 2000, the suicide rate for Oregon is 41 percent above the national average, according to Oregon Health Department.(1) In 2013, Portland, OR suicides were three times the national average, according to information reported by the Oregonian [newspaper](2)
Our state has one of the best Hospice networks in the nation. Americans for Safe Access, a pro-cannabis national nonprofit. …
Interestingly, the people who are pushing for passage of this law point to control and compassion as reasons to support this law, yet the reality is much more complex than that. Under both proposed laws, as soon as the prescription is filled, the law is remarkably silent about the administration of the lethal medication. There is no exception for a pharmacist who may feel uncomfortable filling a lethal prescription for ethical or religious convictions.
For anyone who thinks this will be simply taking a few pills and drifting off to sleep, that’s not how the process works. According to the Oregon Public Health Division . . . Secobarbital [is] the default drug to “die with dignity.” The therapeutic dosage of Secobarbital is 100 to 200 mg or one to two capsules taken orally. When a patient is given a lethal prescription of Secobarbital they are given 90-100 capsules, told to empty the contents of the capsule in a sweet tasting liquid, like ginger ale and then, drink the liquid. . . . The lethal dose of Secobarbital can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $2,300 dollars. The cocktail can take anywhere from 2 hours to four and a half days to kill a patient (3), the drug does not always work; people have had to be revived after vomiting the solution.
Finally given the past few weeks in which people have been concerned about their health care and with real issues affecting access to health care, and even critical treatments such as organ transplants becoming a political issue, now is not the time for this law.