Let the best argument, religious or not, win the day
Fair discourse on aid-in-dying can't exclude religious arguments
As a former atheist I read with sadness Patrick McCann’s opinion piece regarding the death of another proposed bill on assisted suicide.
This is the fifth time after a public hearing that this bill has failed to come up for any committee vote in Connecticut’s General Assembly. It is a humiliating defeat for its proponents. When I was an atheist I tried to keep an open mind and did not scorn or smear others for their beliefs as Mr. McCann does.
Mr. McCann threw up accusations against Catholic priests as a reason to support assisted suicide. While there is no excuse for this behavior, may Lord also have mercy on the violent legacy of atheists around the world. Nobody is immune from sin.
My opinion was and continues to be that all sides should make their best public case and let the light of rational thought win the day, even if those thoughts happen to be religious. It is still a free country after all. I think most atheists still feel this way and they would be better represented by someone who shared that viewpoint.
Fair discourse and thoughtful discussion is exactly what has been happening at the five public hearings regarding assisted suicide. At those hearings you would have heard some religious arguments for sure, but they were a minority. I know the head of this year’s committee, a strong advocate of assisted suicide, lamented that it was religious viewpoints that blocked the vote; but I find it hard to believe that was the sole reason (pun intended).
More likely, it was the thoughtful testimonies of a vulnerable population, people with disabilities. They are on the fringe of our medical care system and must endure thoughtless remarks about how difficult it must be to live and persevere. In their world, what can seem like compassion, even from doctors, is really just the flip side of prejudice. We will all be this vulnerable some day and when people with disabilities testify for themselves, they are also testifying for the rest of us.
It is also slight of hand for Mr. McCann to insist that there have been no problems with assisted suicide in other states where it has passed. In most states, there is no penalty for mis-reporting assisted suicide statistics and records are not kept. Most of the states that Mr. McCann listed have only recently passed assisted suicide and is unfair to use them as an example.
To see how assisted suicide will affect the lives of people with disabilities, you only have to listen to the UN’s first ever Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Catalina Devandas Aguilar. Canada has a more radical euthanasia law, but it gives us a glimpse of what could be Connecticut’s future. In her report, she gives examples of people with disabilities denied care but encouraged to die by assisted suicide.
I would also discourage atheists from embracing an extreme libertarian viewpoint that disdains all regulation of the physician-patient relationship. It is well known that doctors prescribe pain medication in extra-amounts for patients near the end of life to control pain, even if that medication causes death. This informal, flexible mode of caring for people near death should continue.
Connecticut residents would all be served by preserving the careful balance we currently have, encouraging continued research into pain management, hospice accessibility, and not inviting the state to control every aspect of end-of-life care, particularly imposing more intrusive regulations, hurdles and reporting requirements for something that should remain private.
Leslie Wolfgang is an attorney in Waterbury.
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