Disability rights advocates are fighting back after Gov. Jerry Brown, D-Calif., authorized assisted suicide in California.
In a letter to lawmakers explaining his decision, Brown wrote that he considered “what I would want in the face of my own death.”
“I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain,” Brown 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.”
Supporters argue that assisted suicide allows a terminally ill patient to choose “death with dignity.”
Opponents, however, object to the willful termination of human life that the bill permits and are concerned that it would allow elderly, ill, or disabled patients to be coerced to choose death.
Diane Coleman, the president and CEO of Not Dead Yet, a disability rights group, told The Daily Signal that “the dangers that we’ve been talking about are very real.”
Coleman said California should have looked at the results of Oregon’s decision to permit physician-assisted suicide.
“Oregon data shows that people are getting lethal prescriptions who are not terminally ill,” said Coleman. “Oregon data shows that there was no health care provider witness at the time of death in about half the cases, so we don’t know what happened to those people and there’s a very real risk that some were administered the lethal drugs by someone else—such as an heir or caregiver—without their consent.”
She said the law’s passage won’t deter her opposition.
“We’ll continue to work to protect old, ill and disabled people from these dangers, but it’s hard to know how, given the law’s provisions which are designed to protect everyone involved in the death except the patient. We need to work to ensure equal suicide prevention for all, no matter what the person’s circumstances. We need to work to ensure that there is a way for abuses to be reported by patients who feel pressured or by loved ones who see pressures being applied on someone. We’ll continue to think about what we can do in the face of this terrible law.”
Curt Decker, the executive director of the National Disability Rights Network, told The Daily Signal that the organization hasn’t taken a stance on assisted suicide, which he called “a controversial issue within the disability rights community.”
Decker said he was sympathetic to the idea that a person suffering from terminal illness or pain may wish to choose death, but he believes that the idea that these patients may be coerced by caretakers or financial circumstance into suicide is “not an unreal threat.”
He urged advocates of assisted suicide to include “strong protections” in any legislation in order to prevent coercion.
Deborah Doctor, a legislative advocate for NDRN’s California affiliate, told The Daily Signal that the group was opposed to California’s legislation because it feels it lacks the proper protections.
“We do not question the intent of the authors,” Doctor said. “Our concern is about people who are not in a position to make the decision of their own free will.”
Doctor said the bill permits a doctor who hasn’t met the patient before the suicide to carry out the assisted suicide, requires no training for witnesses, and doesn’t institute oversight over the process.
“The truth is, there is nobody who can assure you there was no coercion involved.”
Doctor said the group would work to “maximize those protections.”
In a recent report on assisted suicide, Ryan Anderson, a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, wrote that legalizing the practice is a “grave mistake.”
“Human life need not be extended by every medical means possible, but a person should never be intentionally killed,” Anderson wrote. “Doctors may help their patients to die a dignified death from natural causes, but they should not kill their patients or help them to kill themselves. This is the reality that such euphemisms as ‘death with dignity’ and ‘aid in dying’ seek to conceal.”