I think what everyone can agree on is that we need more medical care and research, not less. It’s horrible that our medical system cannot adequately manage people’s pain and that far too many diseases have no cures or treatments.

Long before the COVID pandemic, we had an overburdened, understaffed and inefficient medical system where all too often the cost-effectiveness of one treatment over another determined the patient’s care. Sometimes an insurance company takes the cheap route, sometimes the doctor or hospital does, sometimes the patient who can’t afford the most effective treatment.

Unfortunately, many consider it’s pragmatic, easier, and less expensive to allow people to self-administer drugs to kill themselves than to address the shortcomings of the medical industry that neglects to fund research for effective ways to deal with pain and disease.

I’ve accompanied people to multiple hospital visits and have seen in pre-COVID times how our medical system treats elderly. One hospital floor doctor, after meeting a patient for ten minutes, said the patient had dementia and no treatment for the physical ailment would be appropriate. I told her she was wrong, to look in the file at the reports from the gerontologist regarding the patient’s sharpness of mind. The doctor told me she didn’t have to read the file because she “could see how the patient presented herself” and based her (the doctor’s) decision on that.

This is the caliber of some of the people who have control over life and death.

Some doctors can be great, and others can be odious. Plus, doctors are not always right in their diagnoses and prognoses. I’ve seen patients’ wishes for care being ignored. I’ve seen attempts to pressure family members to agree to palliative care or hospice care instead of treatment for their loved ones’ conditions.

The elderly, people of color, disabled, and the impoverished already fight not to be marginalized in the medical system. We all need to fight together for increased research in pain management, treatments, and quality of life issues for as long as a person is alive.

Many people who are against medical aid in dying legislation have used the phrase “This is a slippery slope.” I didn’t realize how slippery it was until I did some research. In Canada, medical aid in dying became legal in 2015. In March 2021, the safeguard of having a projected short time left to live in order to qualify for medical aid in dying was done away with.

The requirements now are to have a serious illness, disease or disability, be in an advanced state of decline that cannot be reversed, and experience unbearable physical or mental suffering from an illness, disease, disability or state of decline that cannot be relieved under conditions that the person considers acceptable.

On March 17, 2023, another “safeguard” will be removed, as on that date people with a mental illness can also qualify as candidates for aid in dying. So who is going to decide their fate?

And in the Netherlands, children as young as 12 can request aid in dying.

Why the devaluation of life? Why the despair over needing assistance for daily living activities? Why is providing care for a loved one considered a “burden?” And why are there no better treatments for pain management?

We’re a society, like it or not. This is a larger matter than individual right. By legalizing the opportunity to self-administer the drugs to hasten death, others are put at risk of having care denied. Like upholding as “freedom of choice” an individual’s right to not wear a mask during a pandemic, so too “freedom to choose death” puts others at risk.

Not too many decades ago, it was an accepted standard for infants with disabilities to be removed from their families to live in institutions (that is, if the delivery room doctor allowed them to live). The practice of infant euthanasia devalued the lives of all the disabled, as did separating disabled children from their families. I’m grateful our societal thinking has evolved in 50 or 60 years, and there are now some programs and support structures to help parents with raising their disabled children. And I have to thank the Special Olympics, which has had an enormous impact on breaking through the stigma of “otherness” by showcasing disabled people’s talents and abilities.

A doctor takes an oath to heal, comfort and care for a patient. Assisted suicide casts suspicion not only on the doctors involved, but on the entire medical profession as they relinquish their responsibility to try to restore the patient to health.
The medical aid in dying bill is a societal disaster.

People are denied coverage because insurance companies look for profit, not for the welfare of the patient (their customer). Medical institutions, individual doctor practices and hospitals are businesses, also concerned with profit. Research is stymied because funding is not available.

As long as financial considerations have this primary role in society, we truly are going down a slippery slope in many aspects of life. The medical aid in dying bill is part of healthcare deform, not healthcare reform.

Paula Panzarella, New Haven resident, member of Progressives Against Medical Assisted Suicide