An article in favor of the aid-in-dying bill, submitted by Raxine Campbell, appeared in CT Viewpoints on Dec. 4. An answering rebuttal was posted shortly afterwards by Cathy Ludlum, who is a well-known advocate for the disabilities rights group Second Thoughts. As one who wants this legislation to become law in Connecticut, I would like to respond to Ludlum’s letter.
Disabilities rights advocates have successfully (and rightly) fought many battles on behalf of disabled and handicapped people, who too often encounter obstacles and attitudes that are antagonistic to their success and well-being. Understandably, they have a victimhood mindset, which is the lens through which they view any societal issues that can be imagined to constitute another threat to their existence.
Predictably, disabilities rights advocates have reacted with alarm to aid-in-dying initiatives. I believe this is a battle that they need not fight.
Note that there are several equivalent terms to aid in dying including right to die, end of life options, and death with dignity. But “assisted suicide” is the pejorative term that is always used by opponents of aid in dying. However, suicide is committed by people who would otherwise live for many years, who die alone, and who are suicidal. People who take fatal medication under aid in dying are already close to death, usually die in the company of loved ones, and are emphatically not suicidal.
Ludlum says that assisted suicide cannot be “restricted to a limited population”, i.e., terminally ill patients who are mentally competent and can self-administer the lethal drugs. She states, as though it’s a fact, that various people outside of this limited population can and will successfully sue the government to be able to end their lives. However, under Oregon’s 18-year-old death with dignity law, this has not happened.
But what if, under very limited and extreme circumstances, someone living a hellish existence mounted such a suit and won the right to legally obtain a fatal medication? Rational people would say that person acted sensibly and within his/her rights.
The arguments against aid in dying generally consist of fear-tinged hypothetical scenarios, some of which sound plausible until they are subjected to a bit of thought and research. The preceding paragraph gives one example. Here is another: Ludlum’s comment about the higher-than-average suicide rate in Oregon implies that their death with dignity law has created an atmosphere that leads to more suicides. And a few religious and/or conservative websites say essentially the same thing. But none of them offers any proof of causation.
A bit of research reveals no connection between death with dignity and suicide. Briefly, about 80 percent of U. S. suicides are committed by men, and most of them involve guns used in rural settings. To these facts, add limited access to mental health care and lax gun controls, and you have a set of conditions that apply to Oregon and several other western states which, collectively, are referred to as the “suicide belt.”
In closing, I would like to stress that the value of aid in dying is real, the rationale for it is solid, and the restrictions on it border on excessive. The experience of states that already have this law has been overwhelmingly positive. By contrast, the arguments against it are grounded in negative emotions and worrisome (but imaginary) speculations.
Stanley Greenberg is a member of the Connecticut Coalition of Reason.