Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Assisted suicide

In California, we're having yet another assisted suicicide bill coming up for a possible vote. Here's the story on it: Assisted Suicide Bill Coming Up

While this has been in the works for a while, I'm hoping that those who were galvanized by the Terri Schiavo case have motives that go beyond that narrow concern and will use their considerable voice and networking abilities in opposition to this law.

A few quotes from the article:

State Assembly Bill 654, introduced by Democrats Patty Berg and Lloyd Levine in February, is scheduled for an April 12 hearing and possible vote in the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

According to its text, the bill would authorize mentally competent adults who have been diagnosed with a terminal disease to request medication for the purpose of ending their lives in a humane and dignified manner.

I think that if I hear "death with dignity" one more time, I will scream. Yes, it's hard to be "dignified" while one is writhing in pain, puking one's guts out, and unable to do the simplest things. But since when is this concept of dignity at all costs, even death, so important? There are plenty of times in our life when we sacrifice dignity for a greater good. There is precious little dignity in going for a routine physical exam. No one that I've ever met has managed to pull of "birthing with dignity". In fact, I don't think anyone could pull off "conceiving with dignity", nor would many people even want to try.

But, the message seems to be that if you can't die with dignity, you should kill yourself.

Amazingly, even with all the helplessness, pain, and barfing, my brother managed to maintain his sense of humor (making jokes and pulling our legs up until almost the very end) and showed such tremendous courage that I'll forgive him any lapses of dignity. (Actually there was nothing that needs forgiving. Nothing. I can only hope to face death as well.)

On the other side of the argument, a group called Californians Against Assisted Suicide has been established to defeat the bill. CAAS -- a coalition of health care, disability rights, and grassroots advocacy organizations -- believes that assisted suicide is a destructive response to illness or disability.

"As such, any legalization of assisted suicide is bad public policy and harmful to the well being of all Californians," the group said on its website.

CAAS says the "suicide-promotion" legislation is unnecessary because California law already gives patients the right to refuse extraordinary end-of-life treatment.

The group sees a special danger to newly disabled people, who may need time to work through their initial despondency or depression. An assisted suicide bill would make it all too easy to succumb to despair, the group said.

CAAS also warns that millions of low-income Californians who don't have access to basic health care would find it easier to kill themselves if the bill becomes law. "The last to receive health care would be the first to receive assisted suicide," the group said.

Both the American Medical Association and the California Medical Association -- and a host of other medical and disability rights groups -- oppose the legislation.

I am all for people being able to refuse medical treatment and procedures. However, I think our government and our doctors need to run, as fast as possible, away from the business of "suicide promotion".

Far too many of us have had dark nights of the soul after being diagnosed with something horrible. We don't need people encouraging us that suicide is the road to compassion and dignity.

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