Tom Keane, writing in this Sunday’s Boston Globe, trots out all of the old fears and misconceptions about assisted suicide to scare people in Massachusetts to believe it is not an option that should be available to those who might opt for it. Keane believes that others — not you — know what’s best for you. Even when you’re dying of a terminal disease.
That’s too bad. Because we now have a couple of years of evidence from Washington state and nearly 15 years of evidence from Oregon — who have allowed for assisted suicide — that demonstrate fears about allowing assisted suicide are based largely in irrationality, not data.
Assisted suicide for those who are at the end of their lives, often in unbearable pain, is an option that should be available for all Americans. It is unconscionable that Keane believes he knows what’s best for you and I when it comes to our end-of-life decisions. It’s my life, and it should be my choice to die with dignity.
I don’t want Keane — or the government — telling me I have to suffer just because medicine or some random doctor says I have to. I want to die on my terms — in peace, not in pain.
Keane’s argument is a bit irrational itself, appealing to emotion rather than logic. Rather than rolling out data or actual cases where his fears have been realized in the U.S., he instead appeals to our fears:
A diagnosis of a terminal illness can easily leave patients despondent and considering taking their lives; the new law legitimizes that contemplation.
No, the new law recognizes the fact that terminal illness is, by definition, a death sentence. The actual length of one’s life might vary from that point, but it almost never changes the basic fact — you’re going to die a lot sooner than you imagined.
The new law also legitimizes what patients have simply been doing on their own for centuries. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, when the law catches up with actual citizens’ practice.
But to scare you further (because, again, this is an argument based upon emotion, not logic), Keane trots out a scary letter:
Several years ago, in fact, one Oregon health plan, having refused to pay for medication that might prolong a patient’s life, sent her a letter proposing suicide as an alternative (and said it would be happy to pay for those drugs). With the new law in place, the economic incentive for Massachusetts insurers would be to encourage the cheaper way out as well.
Keane fails to mention an important component of the case1 — many health plans limit coverage of prescription drugs meant solely to extend someone’s life, but cannot cure the cancer itself.2 It’s a slightly more complex case than Keane summarizes above in a single sentence. The actual problem appeared to have little to do with assisted suicide, but a lot to do with the slow-moving wheels of bureaucracy keeping its policies up-to-date:
“We are looking at today’s … 2008 treatment, but we’re using 1993 standards,” Fryefield said. “When the Oregon Health Plan was created, it was 15 years ago, and there were not all the chemotherapy drugs that there are today.”
So the best example of the “evils” of an assisted-suicide law appears to be an insurance company letter that was misinterpreted by its recipient? Really??3
And sometimes his attempt at logic just breaks down altogether:
Many of the objections to the proposed law are practical. “Terminally ill,” for example, is defined as death within six months. Why not a year, or for that matter 50 years (in which case, I guess, a whole lot of us would be eligible)?
Umm, because phrases need to mean something, no? This is the definition other states have used, and despite some people’s misgivings, seems to be a definition that has some substance to it. Yes, it may be arbitrary, but what does it matter? Isn’t most law, in fact, somewhat arbitrary?4
Last, just because our knowledge can never be absolute, that’s a poor excuse to be against something:
Granted, there may be times where life is meaningless and oblivion really is the better option. But none of us, even in extremis, can really know.
We can’t really know about a lot of things, yet that doesn’t stop us from seeking answers. That’s the basis of most religions — and most medicine. Doctors don’t know when they cut into you that it will actually improve or save your life. An unexpected complication and that minor surgery could turn into a surgery that takes your life.
That’s the nature of medicine — and of life.
Assisted suicide is a simple, reasonable and dignified choice that individuals at the end of their lives should be allowed greater access to. The only reason to withhold such access is the belief that government knows better than you what’s best for you at the end of your life.
I believe that few of us would agree that government knows what’s best for us in our personal health decisions. With all things being equal at the end of your life, would you rather gain a few weeks of life living in a hospital bed, heavily medicated, with tubes running from you, with machines helping you “live,” or would you rather die in a place and at a time of your own choosing?
Even if you choose, “hospital bed,” shouldn’t that choice be yours, and yours alone?
Read the full article: Assisted suicide ballot question brings Kevorkian to Massachusetts
- The case of Barbara Wagner was apparently plucked, without disclosure, from an anti-assisted suicide website called the Patients Rights Council [↩]
- Note, too, that the case is from 4 years ago — apparently the most recent incident Keane could turn up. [↩]
- Sorry, I was really looking for the roaming death squads, and the evil heirs waiting in the wings to take their inheritance a few months early. [↩]
- If you need examples in Massachusetts, I could rattle off a few dozen off the top of my head — that’s the nature of the law. Look at the difference between a misdemeanor theft and a felony theft — it’s an arbitrary dollar amount set, in most cases, many decades ago — not taking into account inflation or changing times. [↩]