Archive for the ‘Assisted Suicide’ Category

The Awful Truth of Assisted Suicide Advocacy

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

When they speak to the general public or to legislators, advocates for assisted suicide routinely express concern about ensuring patient safety, and point to the allegedly rigorous safeguards that they have written into their proposed bills. We have long countered that these safeguards are mere shams, and provide no real protection for vulnerable patients.

Now, thanks to an article at an obscure legal blog, we know what the assisted suicide advocates really think. They want no safeguards at all. They believe that any patient protections written into law are harmful and unnecessary. They want assisted suicide to be a normal part of medical practice and for doctors alone to set the standards.

In other words, they’ve been deceiving us all along about what they really want.

The truth was revealed in a recent article by Kathryn Tucker, who is the Executive Director of the “End of Life Liberty Project”. She is a leading advocate for assisted suicide, and is one of the attorneys who is suing New York State to have assisted suicide legalized. She was commenting on the recent District of Columbia law that legalized assisted suicide — a bill that her fellow advocates drafted and which is similar to all the bills that have been introduced around the country, including the one her own organization has endorsed in New York.

But despite the lip service that they pay to patient protection, the reality is that she has no use for  safeguards that are designed to protect patients from abuse and manipulation. Instead she calls them “burdens and restrictions”, and adds:

While in some ways these enactments are a step toward expanding end of life liberty, they impose heavy governmental intrusion into the practice of medicine, which is concerning because it creates barriers to patient access and to physician participation.

“Barriers” to more death, in other words.

She then went on to object to such common-sense protections as:

  • Requiring the patient to make multiple requests, including at least one in writing, which is designed to ensure that the patient isn’t acting rashly.
  • Requiring that the request be witnessed, which would ensure that the request is being made by a competent person who is not under coercion.
  • Obtaining a second opinion, which is intended to protect the patient from a mis-diagnosis
  • Referring the patient to a mental health specialist to ensure that they are competent to make medical decisions.
  • Mandating a fifteen-day waiting period, again to ensure that the decision isn’t being made rashly.
  • Requiring that doctors collect and report data about the case, which would allow public health authorities and law enforcement to oversee what is happening and take action if there are abuses.

Now, to be clear, we consider all of these supposed safeguards to be inadequate to protect vulnerable patients. They leave too many loopholes, such as the failure to insist on a psychological screening for depression. And most alarming, they don’t provide any protection whatsoever after the medicine has been dispensed and the patient leaves the hospital. These problems can’t be fixed, and that alone is a reason to oppose legalization.

But now we know what assisted suicide activists are really after. They want more patients to have “access” to suicide, so that more people can kill themselves. And they want more doctors who are willing to participate in the killing. They don’t want to give patients even the minimal protections that go along with the execution of simple legal documents like wills, health care proxies or powers of attorney. They want doctors like Dr. Kevorkian to make up their own rules. And they don’t want anyone to be able to oversee what’s happening and hold people accountable.

The awful truth is that their agenda is death, and more of it. They want to push us down the slippery slope. They must be stopped.

The Danger Signs on Suicide are Clear

Saturday, April 23rd, 2016

It is hard not to have sympathy for those who are advocating for the legalization of assisted suicide as a way of alleviating suffering. Suffering is a terrible reality of human life, an experience of evil that cannot be avoided. Without a Christian understanding of the meaning of suffering (see St. John Paul’s magnificent letter Salvifici Doloris), it is a fearsome thing to face.

But even a non-believer should be able to discern the clear danger signs about the inevitable effects of legalizing any form of suicide, and step away from that precipice.

The experience of European countries that have legalized assisted suicide are test cases. We can see the way that the practice spread from the terminally ill, to those with chronic illnesses, to those with psychiatric or developmental problems, to minors, and utimately to people who were put to death even though they never requested it. It is abundantly clear that there are no limiting principles that can stop the spread of assisted suicide, and its progress to outright euthanasia.

The danger signs can also be seen in the most recent statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control on the incidence of suicide in the United States.

The situation is truly alarming — suicide has increased dramatically over the last two decades. Here are some of the lowlights of the report:

  • From 1999 through 2014, the suicide rate increased 24%, with the pace of increase accellerating after 2006.
  • Suicide rates increased from 1999 through 2014 for both males and females and for all ages 10–74.
  • In 2014, the rate for males was more than three times that for females, but the percent increase was greater for females (45% increase) than males (16% increase).
  • Although there were few suicides compared with other age groups, the suicide rate for females aged 10–14 tripled.
  • In both 1999 and 2014, suicide rates were highest among men aged 75 and over. Men aged 45–64 had the second-highest suicide rate for males in 2014 and the largest percent increase (43%) in rates.
  • Suicide is increasing against the backdrop of generally declining mortality, and is currently one of the 10 leading causes of death overall and within each age group 10–64.

With this information, how can it possibly make sense to legalize assisted suicide, which sends a clear, strong message that some lives are not worth living, and that death is the solution? Shouldn’t we instead redouble our efforts to convince people to reject suicide?

Advocates for assisted suicide insist that society defer absolutely to their autonomy, based on a notion that people have absolute liberty to do whatever they like. Yet our society has never done so. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said in his famous dissent in the Lochner case, “The liberty of the citizen to do as he likes so long as he does not interfere with the liberty of others to do the same, which has been a shibboleth for some well known writers, is interfered with by school laws, by the Post Office, by every state or municipal institution which takes his money for purposes thought desirable, whether he likes it or not.” The idea that people have complete autonomy is both incoherent and an invitation to anarchy.

Again, the suffering of individuals is compelling and naturally rouses sympathy. We must do everything we can to alleviate the physical, psychological, social, emotional and spiritual suffering of all our brethren.

But the particular desires of individuals cannot be the basis of making law for our entire society. St. Thomas Aquinas defined law as “an ordinance of reason for the common good”. The good of all of society must be the controlling concern when we make law, not the idiosyncratic interests of some people or groups.

The danger signs of relaxing our immemorial ban on suicide are very, very clear that it would lead to many more unnecessary and tragic deaths. We must continue to resist any effort to legalize any form of suicide, for the good of all of society.

The Danger is Real

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

One of the common arguments offered by assisted suicide advocates is that the track record of the practice in Oregon shows that there have been no problems.  Just last week, I sat in the courtroom of the Appellate Division and heard the suicide group’s lawyer say that repeatedly and with passion.

The problem for them is, it just isn’t true.  In fact, the most recent report from Oregon bears out all the warnings we’ve been offering about what would happen if it were legalized here in New York:

  • It threatens disabled people — the three most frequently mentioned end-of-life concerns are not unbearable pain, but instead were decreasing ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable (96.2%), loss of autonomy (92.4%), and loss of dignity (75.4%).  Legalization of assisted suicide amounts to saying that a life with a disability is not worth living.
  • It ignores mental health problems — Only 3.8% of those who ask for suicide are referred for psychiatric evaluation, even though it’s well-established that those who ask for suicide are frequently suffering from treatable depression.  A recent study of euthanasia in Holland underscores this problem — people with mental illness are not getting psychiatric treatment for their problems and are choosing to kill themselves instead.
  • It harms the elderly — Virtually all those who committed suicide were over 55, and the great majority over 65.  Are we really willing to send the message that suicide is a good thing for elderly people?
  • It threatens vulnerable and isolated people — 62.5% were insured by some kind of government insurance (e.g. Medicaid or Medicare), 26% were widowed, and 27.5% divorced; the median length of their relationship with the doctor who gave them the deadly drugs was only 9 weeks — and at least one person had only known their doctor for one week.
  • There is no supervision to prevent abuse — 79.2% died with no health provider present, and in more than 89% of the cases the prescribing doctor was not present (although he makes the report and signs the death certificate).  So how can we tell if the person was mentally competent, and free of coercion?
  • It’s a danger to others — 86 people got the deadly drugs but didn’t take them, raising the question — what happened to the other drugs?
  • The numbers continue to rise — Every year there’s an increase in people receiving deadly drugs and in those taking them.  It should also be noted that other studies have shown that the overall suicide rate increases in states where assisted suicide is legal.

No matter how the advocates try to twist the language (using the Orwellian term “aid in dying”, as opposed to “assisted suicide”) or spin the numbers, we all know where this is going.  In the European countries that have legalized suicide, it has led to widespread euthanasia, including involuntary killing of patients who never asked for suicide, the killing of children, and the establishment of stand-alone suicide clinics.  Advocates here have already said that they intend to extend the reach of assisted suicide beyond the terminally ill.

The facts are clear — the danger is real.

Opposing Assisted Suicide in the Courts

Tuesday, January 5th, 2016

The battle to defend life against the Culture of Death has many fronts.  The most prominent, of course, is the defense of the unborn child in the womb.  But increasingly, we must turn our attention to the end of life, where the weak and vulnerable are the targets of attack.

The movement to legalize assisted suicide has been growing in strength here in the United States.  It has already advanced in Europe, and even in Canada.  But its message of despair is getting more traction here as well.  Only a handful of states have bought the serpent’s message so far, but last year California fell, and that gives the movement considerable momentum.  They are turning their attention — and sending their extremely well-funded lobbyists — into a number of other states, including New York.

The battle over assisted suicide will soon be joined in our State Legislature.  Two bills are pending there, and we expect this legislative session to be the opening round of a long struggle.  I laid out the basic arguments in an earlier blog post.

But the enemies of life are also seeking to obtain their goal in the cheap and easy way — by going to court.  Last year, a group of advocates and patients filed a lawsuit in New York State court in Manhattan, seeking to have our laws against assisted suicide overturned.  Their argument is based on a spurious constitutional argument.  The Attorney General of New York has the duty to defend our law, which gave us some trepidation at the start of the case — the AG is staunchly pro-abortion, and no friend of the cause of life.  But his office did a good job defending the law in the lower court, and were victorious.  But the case is now before an appellate panel, and will eventually be decided by our Court of Appeals.

The time had come for the Church to enter the field.  So, the New York State Catholic Conference has filed an amicus curiae brief, explaining the compelling state interest in banning assisted suicide, and pointing out the dangers to religious liberty if the courts were to overturn the ban.  I was the principal author of the brief, assisted by my colleague Alexis Carra.  If you’re interested in reading the whole brief, you can download it here.

The argument in the brief focuses primarily on the reasons that we have laws against assisted suicide.  This is an important part of defending the current law — depending on the legal standard that the court applies, there must be either a “rational basis” for the law, or it must advance a “compelling government interest”.  I have found that in many cases, there haven’t been sufficient explanations of the moral and religious reasons for a law, or for a request for an exemption from a law.  I’ve seen this in litigation involving abortion, suicide, and religious liberty.  All too often, the argument is presented in a conclusory or perfunctory way.  This has always struck me as a terrible missed opportunity to explain to judges (many of whom have no understanding or sympathy for religious institutions) why these issues matter so much to us, and why we feel so strongly about them.

Another reason for making these arguments is so that they are out there in the public square.  Defenders of traditional moral standards are typically put on the defensive, which allows our adversaries to set the agenda.  It’s also a problem that we frequently make our arguments purely in secular terms, which misses the chance to do some indirect evangelization.  Even though I often like to say that all I care about is winning, in reality all I really care about is spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ by whatever means available.

So, the battle is joined in yet another forum.  No rest for the defenders of life.