It’s likely one of the most excruciating questions we’ll ever face: should we choose to allow a doctor to assist us in our own death? It’s difficult for a few reasons, first, what if it’s someone we love who could very well choose to end his or her pain in this life? It’s also difficult because if it’s us making that decision for ourselves, there are going to be loved ones who will feel the pain of that choice. Earlier this month, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law his state’s own version of the right to die law, this sixth of its kind in this country. Now, some are arguing this will lead to elder abuse.
Known as the End of Life Option Act, it went into effect on October 5th and allows doctors to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to terminally ill patients. It was a difficult choice he faced.
In a letter to state lawmakers, Brown said that he considered the arguments on both sides, including the “theological and religious perspectives” that suicide is sinful, but ultimately, he said he chose to sign the bill after reflecting on what he would want when faced with his own death. The letter read, in part, “I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain,” he wrote. “I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn’t deny that right to others.”
Opponents of the law, including the state’s Catholic bishops, psychiatrists, bioethicists, advocates for the elderly and disabled and pro-life leaders, say the governor had no right to sign the bill based on his opinions instead of what they call the “common good” of the state’s citizens. They fear people could be coerced or bullied into ending their lives. Some went so far as to say his decision was both shortsighted and selfish. “Gov. Brown has purchased the right to assisted suicide at the expense of the disabled, the marginalized, the poor and the elderly. Shame on him for being so selfish and shortsighted,” said O. Carter Snead, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame and former general counsel to the President’s Council on Bioethics.
Those who do not have the same advantages as wealthier people may feel suicide is their only out. They say they will be “disproportionately impacted by physician-assisted suicide”.
For terminally ill elders, many of them may suffer from depression and might already be vulnerable to abuse. New forms of elder abuse could result. Snead said, “The idea that this new right won’t become a tool in the arsenal of elder abuse is, I think, naive.”
There’s already a new coalition to overturn the law. Tim Rosales, a spokesman for Californians Against Assisted Suicide said that the state had “got caught up in the hype”. Had the governor delved further, he would have seen that this law is wrong on many levels.
Meanwhile, Compassion & Choices supports the California law.
The only states, besides California, that have assisted suicide laws are Washington, Oregon and Vermont while New Mexico and Montana allow for court decisions that cover physician-assisted suicide in some cases.