By Gabriela Weigel
Yesterday, representatives from both sides of the aisle came together at a press conference to introduce resolution H.Con.Res.80, which expresses the Sense of Congress that legalizing physician-assisted suicide puts the most vulnerable of our society at risk of deadly harm and undermines the integrity of America’s healthcare system.
Rep. Brad Wenstrup, MD (R-OH) opened up the discussion with a personal story from his years of practice as a physician. He detailed how he examined a neglected AIDS patient who told him after the examination, “You just examined me more than anyone.” Rep. Wenstrup went on to emphasize how this man’s statement pressed upon him the importance of treating all people with human dignity, and that all life has value, even until its last day.
Members from “Compassion and Choices” (formerly known as the Hemlock Society), an organization focused on legalizing assisted suicide nationwide, attended the press conference. Any attempts to protest the Resolution earned a quick retort from member of ADAPT, Not Dead Yet, and other disability rights groups who also were in attendance.
Although advocates of assisted suicide claim to merely be providing another option to a person with a tough diagnosis, the laws in this area are riddled with legal problems. Again and again, so-called safeguards in the legislation have ultimately proven not to protect vulnerable groups, including those suffering from mental illness, the elderly, and persons with disabilities. (More on how so-called safeguards do not work can be found at www.nrlc.org/uploads/medethics/WhySafeguardsDontWork.pdf.)
Nine Members of Congress joined Rep. Wenstrup as original cosponsors of the resolution: Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA), Rep. Andy Harris, M.D. (R-MD), Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA), Rep. Darin LaHood (R-IL), Rep. James Langevin (D-RI), Rep. Ralph Abraham, M.D. (R-LA), Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-PA), and Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY)
They issued the following joint statement:
“Protecting the vulnerable and providing quality care for all patients are cornerstones of any good healthcare system. Included in that is providing comfort and care for those facing the heart-wrenching challenges of dealing with a potentially terminal illness. In some cases, this commitment to fighting for the best care – even in the face of the most deadly diseases – can result in new and innovative cures, offering the chance of recovery for both the patient and for others suffering in the future. In other cases, it is simply a question of offering end-of-life comfort and support.
“Physician-assisted suicide, however, does the opposite. It undermines a key safeguard that protects our nation’s most vulnerable citizens, including the elderly, people with disabilities, and people experiencing psychiatric diagnoses. Americans deserve better.
“We will continue to defend every human being’s inherent dignity, and work to ensure patients facing the end of their lives have access to the best quality and most comprehensive medical care possible, including palliative, in-home, or hospice care, tailored to their individual needs. When governments support, encourage, or facilitate suicide – whether assisted by physicians or others – we devalue our fellow citizens, our fellow human beings. That should not be who we are.”
Editor’s note. Gabriela is a 2017 graduate of Notre Dame Law School and Legal Fellow at the Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics at National Right to Life.