States Increasingly Consider Legalizing Assisted Suicide
New legislation seeking to legalize physician-assisted suicide (PAS) is on the move in several U.S. states — perhaps most notably Connecticut (with a 75% approval rating) and Minnesota (with a 73% approval rating).
Connecticut’s Act Concerning Aid in Dying For Terminally Ill Patients sets the minimum age at 21, while Minnesota’s End-of-Life Option bill extends assisted suicide to patients as young as 18. While both bills insist that assisted suicide will be made available only to individuals suffering from incurable terminal illness, similar legislation around the world has earned the reputation of beginning a dangerous slippery slope.
“Once the ‘option’ of assisted suicide is used, it can be easily applied to others in similar circumstances,” author Megan Gannon, whose recent Newsweek op-ed details her perspective on physician-assisted suicide as a woman living with cerebral palsy, told The Washington Stand. “This can be done by anyone from the person suffering from the terminal illness, to health care professionals, to insurance companies and governments. Looking north to Canada confirms options become pressures, pressures become standard procedures, and standard procedures are codified into law.”
New state PAS bills come amid global controversy about the societal consequences of physician-assisted suicide legalization. Canada has been heavily criticized in recent months for seeking to expand its Medical Aid in Dying (MAiD) program to include individuals who have disabilities or mental illness, as well as individuals experiencing homelessness. Likewise, in Belgium, the government is under fire for agreeing to euthanize a woman who requested to be killed 16 years into serving her life sentence in prison; critics observed that her death amounts to a form of capital punishment due to the context of her request. Generally, Belgium allows euthanasia in instances when someone’s psychological suffering becomes “unbearable.”
Despite the popular imagery of physician-assisted suicide as “death with dignity,” those who advocate for natural death contend that there is nothing dignified about a medically-induced suicide. The Connecticut assisted suicide bill mentions that patients seeking PAS must initial a document stating, “I expect to die if and when I take the medication to be dispensed or prescribed. I further understand that, although most deaths occur within one hour, my death may take longer and my attending physician has counseled me about this possibility.”
“Patients wishing to end their lives often have swallowing and malabsorption issues,” Dr. Joseph Bentivegna wrote for the Connecticut Mirror in opposition to the state’s proposed legislation. “Thus, so-called ‘death with dignity’ becomes an unpleasant ordeal that frequently results in an emergency department visit, and if anecdotal evidence is to be believed, ‘death by pillow’ — when a family member attending the death scene smothers the patient with a pillow.”
If the proposed legislation passes, Connecticut and Minnesota would become the eleventh and twelfth states to legalize physician-assisted suicide; the procedure is also legal in the District of Columbia. Assisted suicide is legal in only six European nations: Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland — with the latter five allowing PAS even for reasons of “chronic mental conditions” and the Netherlands permitting it specifically for cases of dementia. Legislation related to PAS has also been recently introduced in Maryland, Indiana, Rhode Island, Virginia, Arizona, Iowa, New Mexico, and Florida.
“Everyone wants control over their future, but there’s a dangerous error in thinking that assisted suicide laws are the answer to this human desire,” Gannon concluded. “Assisted suicide laws only attempt to give people control over their bodily future. They do not fulfill any of the person’s emotional, psychological, or spiritual needs. Often these are the components that drive a person to consider ending their life. Everyone who is involved with a patient’s care needs to be acutely aware of these human needs, as well as the bodily illness.”
Joy Stockbauer is a correspondent for The Washington Stand.