New York’s Death March

In the past few months, the Governor of New York State has been leading our state ever more deeper into the Culture of Death. It began, of course, with the passage of the radical abortion expansion law in January, which legalized abortion for any reason throughout pregnancy and removed any legal protection for babies born alive accidentally during the course of a late-term abortion.

Now, the Governor has announced that he believes that physician-assisted suicide should be legalized. On the radio, he said “I say pass the bill. It’s a controversial issue. It’s a difficult issue. But it would need legislation. … I think it is a situation we have to address, definitely.”

Back in 1994, the Task Force on Life and the Law, appointed by the Governor’s father, evaluated and rejected the idea of legalizing assisted suicide. Among the reasons they gave were some prophetic warnings about the dangers to the most vulnerable among us:

“In light of the pervasive failure of our health care system to treat pain and diagnose and treat depression, legalizing assisted suicide and euthanasia would be profoundly dangerous for many individuals who are ill and vulnerable.  The risks would be most severe for those who are elderly, poor, socially disadvantaged, or without access to good medical care….

“No matter how carefully any guidelines are framed, assisted suicide and euthanasia will be practiced through the prism of social inequality and bias that characterizes the delivery of services in all segments of our society, including health care.  The practices will pose the greatest risks to those who are poor, elderly, members of a minority group, or without access to good medical care.”

These structural problems in the American medical system have certainly not been corrected in the years since the Task Force’s report.  Studies consistently show that disparities exist in access to and quality of healthcare across numerous demographic categories, particularly race, sex, socioeconomic status, and geographic location. These inequities are exacerbated by the economic pressures of the current medical system, where cost containment is a priority.

The people who will be at the greatest risk will be isolated elderly people, people with disabilities, and those with mental illness. In fact, the strongest opponents of legalizing assisted suicide come from the disability community, who see clearly that it would stigmatize them, send a message that their lives are not worth living, and result in pressure for them to take their lives. We should listen to their voices – just visit the website of the group Not Dead Yet and you will hear them loud and clear. They rightly fear that they will be the “collateral damage” of the legalization of assisted death.

We also need to pay attention to what is happening right next door to us, in Canada, where assisted suicide and euthanasia have already been legalized. Here are a few of the most recently-reported examples:

  • In Canada, there was an overall 50% increase in assisted deaths in 2018, with 1.5% of all deaths coming in that way.
  • In Ontario, the number of euthanasia deaths have skyrocketed even more, increasing by 78% in 2018 and 50% in 2017.
  • Canada has seen widespread violation of supposed safeguards, including unreported assisted deaths, killing of people who did not satisfy legal standards for euthanasia, etc. This is similar to the experience in Holland and Belgium, where there have been rampant violations of safeguards and no enforcement actions.
  • In a great majority of cases in Ontario, the assisted death was done by a doctor who had no prior relationship with the patient.

And we need to listen to the advocates for legalization, to see how radical their positions really are.

  • A proposed bill in Delaware was actually opposed by pro-assisted suicide advocates because it had too many patient protections in it. Those unacceptable provisions included the patient being 21 years old, having the terminal diagnosis be confirmed by a completely independent doctor, requiring that the patient have a mental health evaluation, and a tight definition of what constituted a “terminal” diagnosis.
  • The Delaware bill would also have re-defined assisted suicide as “palliative care”, an Orwellian distortion of a term that really means (according to the World Health Organization) treatment to ease symptoms but that affirms life and will not directly cause death.
  • A Connecticut bill that (like the bill pending in New York) would require the doctor to lie on the death certificate, raising opposition from law enforcement agencies that were concerned that the provision would prevent any investigation into whether the patient was murdered.
  • A New Mexico bill that would allow someone other than the patient to administer the deadly drugs, permit assisted suicide based solely on mental health conditions, allow prescription of the drugs by non-doctors and without seeing the patient in person but by “telemedicine” (talking to them over the internet).
  • A Minnesota bill that would violate religious and conscience rights by requiring doctors to refer patients for assisted suicide.
  • Repeated statements by assisted suicide advocates that oppose safeguards by calling them “barriers”, confuse the issue by using euphemisms like “medical aid in dying”, and routinely speak of how they intend to expand eligibility for assisted suicide with a goal of legalizing direct euthanasia.

The reality is that we are talking about murder by doctor. And there are no safeguards that can protect vulnerable patients from being exploited or mistreated. There is no way to change the inevitable message of these bills – that some lives are not worth living and that suicide is a legitimate option for people who have mental illnesses or disabilities.

The Governor is taking us down a very dark path. Instead of promoting death for the weakest and most vulnerable citizens, our government should be strengthening their legal protections and improving their access to quality health care. Our state is on a death march, and we must do all we can to change its course.

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