I would like to respond to the article titled “Physician-assisted suicide is not a choice issue,” which appeared in the March 25 edition of CT Mirror and was written by Lisa Blumberg. In simplest terms, her letter denounces aid in dying, which is immediately evidence by her use of the term “physician-assisted suicide.”
I, however, strongly support aid in dying (also referred to as death with dignity) because I believe that it is a person’s right and that in well-defined circumstances, it is a compassionate and helpful option. Just as important, it has no adverse effect on society nor on anyone who wants no part of it.
These assertions, of course, are contrary to the dire consequences described in Ms. Blumberg’s letter.
Space limitations prevent me from addressing much of what she has to say, so I’ll have to focus on just a few aspects of her comments.
I’ll first note that “suicide” is standard terminology for those who are against aid in dying. The use of this pejorative term ignores the huge difference between suicide as we commonly understand it and the type of deaths enabled by an aid in dying law.
Everyone who uses an aid in dying law to take fatal drugs is already close to death; such people are not in the same category as people who actually commit suicide. The latter would have gone on living if they did not commit suicide. People who commit suicide usually do so alone, whereas terminally ill people who take fatal drugs are usually in the company of their loved ones. Moreover, they are emphatically not suicidal; they would gladly remain alive as long as possible, until they feel certain that they are about to become so debilitated that they will lose control of their life and their dignity.
In short, death with dignity is a sensible death; suicide, as we normally think of it, is a senseless death. If you look no farther than the dictionary definition of suicide, you haven’t looked far enough.
Ms. Blumberg sets up a comparison between same-sex marriage and aid in dying. Beyond the fact that both issues involve freedom of choice, advocates of aid in dying don’t try to justify aid in dying by likening it to same-sex marriage.
I believe a better analogy can be made to gun control. Pro-gun people fight laws that would require background checks or limit the size of ammunition clips on the basis that these are preliminary steps to seizing everyone’s guns. Similarly, Ms. Blumberg ignores the factual aspects of the proposed aid in dying legislation and instead focuses on the hypothetical possibility that it may set the stage for more sweeping end-of-life laws and inhumane attitudes in the future.
It bears repeating that the troubling scenarios she describes so well are explicitly disallowed in Connecticut’s aid in dying bill. And Oregon’s 16 year experience with a death with dignity law (which is less restrictive than the failed Connecticut bill) has not shown the undesirable and alarming outcomes or trends mentioned by Ms. Blumberg.
She says that physician-assisted suicide (again, the term “suicide”) is discriminatory. Indeed it is, by design. A relatively small number of people would qualify for it according to the wording of the aid-in-dying bill, and that wording leaves no opening for a broader interpretation. There is no “inherently bad dynamic.”
What about her belief that physicians’ perspectives will shift if aid in dying becomes part of the “treatment continuum?” This sounds plausible until you remember that nothing really changes except that a relative handful of patients will now have aid in dying as an option.
As for the effect of this option on palliative care and hospice, Oregon’s experience shows that, perhaps unexpectedly, these end-of-life options have become more widely available and utilized than before passage of their death-with-dignity law.
Finally, I would take issue with Ms. Blumberg’s assertion that Connecticut, as a progressive state, should prevent passage of an aid-in-dying law. It is the nature of conservative states to oppose passage of such a law. But Connecticut residents should be able to see this law for what it actually is and is not.
We must not be misled by false reasoning and alarming scenarios that are only conjecture.