by Jane St. Clair
Author of Walk Me to Midnight
The issue of assisted suicide was on the ballot in the state of Washington in November 2008. At that time I pledged to give voters one new reason every day for thirty days why they should vote against this and I took out a new ad in the Seattle Times every day until Election Day.
During that election, our opponents presented their views emotionally, and they wanted to talk about religion. We wanted to talk about the issues, logic, reason and history.
Despite help from celebrities like Martin Sheen, we lost this one. They had ten times as much money to spend.
Today over 9,000 people have read this article. My reasons remain sound and logical, and I am glad I was part of this effort, even though we lost in Washington.
Reason #30- No on Assisted Suicide
Sunday, November 2
Today’s AD-Some terminally ill people recover and get well.
A hospice nurse told me about a lovely 24-year-old given three months to live. Five years later, she is still with us and the mother of a child.
Every good doctor knows that medicine is an art as well as a science. No one can predict with 100% certainty who will live and who will die. Although it is rare, some terminally ill people can and do get better. Everyone who works in hospice can tell you at least one story attesting to that. They personally knew a patient who beat the odds and is still vertical today.
Offer them suicide and you take everything away from them. You take away hope. You take away their lives.
Reason 29: No on Assisted Suicide
Saturday, November 1
Today’s Ad: Doctors make mistakes in medical care.
This week, the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld a $4 million award to the family of a woman misdiagnosed with cancer and then given a lethal dose of painkillers.The 66-year-old woman received massive doses of painkillers at a hospice for cancer, which an autopsy showed she never had, according to court records.
That’s just this week’s news. It happens all the time.
For more horror stories from families who suffered this way, see http://kaiserpapers.org/.
The JOURNAL of the AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION (JAMA) Vol 284, No 4, reports that medical errors may be the third leading cause of death in the United States at 225,000 deaths per year. Half are medical mistakes, including 2,000 deaths/year from unnecessary surgery; 7000 deaths/year from medication errors in hospitals; 20,000 deaths/year from other errors in hospitals; and 80,000 deaths/year from infections in hospitals.
Do you want to give doctors the right to administer suicide medications? Hey, mistakes happen.
Reason 28- No on Assisted Suicide
Friday October 31
Today’s AD-Assisted suicide laws give societal approval to suicide.
These laws create a world where everyone agrees it’s okay to check out at certain times. In fact, we’ll help you do it. We’ll make it legal. Society approves. This creates more suicides among people who are not sick, and leads to increased medical killings. It creates incentives to do less medical research and to save money on medical care by offering people poison pills. This is already happening in Oregon. According to a report from the Oregon Health Authority called “Suicides in Oregon: Trends and Risk Factors,” Oregon’s suicide rate is now 35 times the national average. It had been declining before voters in Oregon made assisted suicide legal, thus making all suicides socially acceptable.
In the Netherlands, assisted suicide has moved into mercy killings of deformed babies, and into allowing mentally ill people to kill themselves rather than seek treatment. There is no reason to believe the United States would do any better if such laws are passed here.
Reason 27- No on Assisted Suicide
October 30 Thursday
Today’s AD No one, not even incapacitated people, needs an assisted suicide.
This is the worst case scenario argument from people who want assisted suicide laws. It goes like this: people who are paralyzed cannot commit suicide themselves. Therefore, they are denied a right. Therefore, we have to pass assisted suicide laws.
First of all, assisted suicide laws are written only for the terminally ill. Someone like Christopher Reeve and Terri Shiavo may have been too incapacitated to commit suicide but they were not terminally ill. Assisted suicide laws have nothing to do with their cases.
The vast majority of people who are terminally ill do not become incapacitated until the very end. They have plenty of time to kill themselves without help. If they ask friends and doctors to help them commit suicide once they become incapacitated, they are often looking for approval of their act or sympathy for their condition. It’s no one’s job to kill another person, and unfair to ask that of doctors and family members.
Reason #26- No on Assisted Suicide
Today’s AD You already have control over your final illness.
Many people believe that assisted suicide laws are bad for society, but they want them just in case they personally need them. They want control over their dying process. It’s a me-first attitude.
What they do not understand is that they already have control of their dying process. My own grandfather pulled out his feeding tubes and respirator himself, telling his doctor and his son that he was an old man and his time had come.
You already can kill yourself any time you want. You have the right to refuse any medical treatment at any time. You can choose pain relief only. You can tell your hospice nurses and caretakers to keep everyone out of your room, if you want control over who sees you when you are sick. You already have control, and you don’t need assisted suicide.
Reason #25- No on Assisted Suicide
Today’s AD-We can come up with better ways of helping the dying besides assisted suicide..
A young man was diagnosed with HIV in the Netherlands. Even though his doctors told him he could live many years free of symptoms, he asked for an doctor-assisted suicide. No one talked to this young man and helped him work through his feelings of depression and of being overwhelmed by his own diagnosis. His culture accepts suicide, so that was that, and he ended his life in despair.
In our own country, oncologists routinely walk away from cancer patients they have been treating for months or even years once they are terminal. The person’s death becomes a personal failure on the part of the physician, even though it’s nothing of the kind. The only failure is the doctor’s lack of caring and lack of courage to stay involved. Caring is not always curing, but every bit as important. If you only think in terms of curing and winning battles against illness, you walk away from your “losers” and you walk away from caring.
We can come up with better ways of dealing with death than this, but we never will if we pass assisted suicide laws.
Reason #24- No on Assisted Suicide
Today’s AD Oregon offers terminally ill people assisted suicide in lieu of medical care.
Oregon and the Netherlands, where assisted suicide is legal, keep expanding it. This passage, written by Dr. Herbert Hendin in Psychiatric Times, sums up what’s happened in the Netherlands:
“The Netherlands has moved from assisted suicide to euthanasia, from euthanasia for the terminally ill to euthanasia for the chronically ill, from euthanasia for physical illness to euthanasia for psychological distress and from voluntary euthanasia to involuntary euthanasia (called “termination of the patient without explicit request”).”
The Dutch now end the lives of psychiatric patients and deformed babies.
In Oregon, medical systems are already offering people assisted suicide in lieu of chemotherapy. Cancer victim Randy Stroup got a letter from the state saying it would pay for his assisted suicide or painless death, but not his chemotherapy. See “Oregon Offers Terminal Patients Assisted Suicide in Lieu of Medical Care,” FOX NEWS, http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,392962,00.html.
Reason #23- No on Assisted Suicide
Today’s AD Assisted suicide laws give more power to the government, not the individual.
On the surface, it looks like you gain a new “right” when you vote for assisted suicide. Actually, you turn over more power to the government and medical establishment.
You already have the power to commit suicide at any time. But if you sign a paper agreeing to have your doctor do it for you, you are turning over your power to someone else. You are creating a mechanism for the government and medical people to enter into decisions as to who lives and who dies. You are taking away the power of the individual. If the federal government takes over even more of the medical care system, you will be turning over your right-to-decide to the federal government.
Reason #22- No on Assisted Suicide
Today’s AD-Assisted suicide laws removes incentive to do medical research.
If cancer patients routinely kill themselves rather than undergo treatment, you have removed a reason to perform medical research to cure cancer. Research scientists receive funding based on how much money illnesses are costing insurance companies and how many people suffer from them. If an illness is rare, it gets less funding.
Also, think about the parents of terminally ill children. They will move mountains to cure that child. Rich parents fund research. Average people find breakthroughs themselves, like the parents in Lorenzo’s Oil.
Suicide laws remove such incentives for medical research and human progress.
Reason #21- No on Assisted Suicide
October 24 Big financial interests are often behind assisted suicide laws.
When are you dead? When your brain dies? When your heart stops beating? When you stop breathing? When you are in an irreversible coma? No one really has come up with a working definition of death, so the concept gets abused, especially since death involves money.
The longer we keep sick people alive, the more they cost us. Last illnesses cost more than any other medical category. About one-third of Medicare’s budget goes for costs incurred in the last one year of life, and 40% of that goes for expenses in the last one month of life. If we convince you that you have no hope for a future, we save money on your care and make money on your organs. If we convince you to die early, we inherit your money more quickly. The government saves on Social Security and Medicare. Your company saves pension money.
So. Are you going to let such financial interests promote assisted suicide as a new public policy?
Reason #20- No on Assisted Suicide
Today’s AD Christopher Reeve considered assisted suicide.
In his autobiography,”Still Me,” Reeve describes the despair he felt after becoming paralyzed in a riding accident. Within seconds, he went from being a handsome, extremely physically fit person to one who could not move from the neck down. He could speak and drink through straws, and that was pretty much it.
He asked his wife to help him commit suicide, and she said, “I understand how you feel, but you’re still you and I love you.” Hence, the title of the book.
What Reeve confesses is that he was testing her to see if she was willing to take over his care.
He went on to live a life of example. Not only did he write an inspiring book, he also acted in and directed several movies and worked tirelessly to get funding for victims of paralysis. He never gave up trying to walk. He became a real superman.
Reason #19- No on Assisted Suicide
Today’s AD Assisted suicide asks too much of loved ones.
In the movies and on TV shows, the dying person is always in excruciating pain and crying out for help to the only one who will listen: an old friend or spouse or daughter or whatever. The writer presents the scene as totally hopeless unless the loved one helps the dying person commit suicide.
This is, of course, absolute nonsense.
The correct response is, “I can’t do that, but I can stay by you, love you, help you through this, make sure you get pain relief, counseling and help. We can get through this together. Please don’t ask me to hurt someone I care about. I love you.”
By the way, pain relief has never been more effective. You can already choose to stay doped up and unconscious until you pass away.
Reason #18- No on Assisted Suicide
Today’s AD-Assisted suicide laws put poor people at risk.
This is the Martin Sheen argument against assisted suicide. He is making radio ads in Washington partly because he believes that assisted suicide laws will put poor people and those without health insurance at an extreme disadvantage within the medical system. Think of the money we’d save on CAT scans, x-rays, medicine, nursing care, rehabilitation, disability payments, etc if we had this cheap alternative: suicide.
Martin Sheen is right.
Reason #17- No on Assisted Suicide
Today’s AD-Suicide interrupts a natural path to wisdom.
At the very end of human life, everything happens faster and better. When you don’t have much time, you prioritize. People become more authentic when they are dying, which is why courts give so much credence to a person’s “last words.”
Hospice nurses have shared many stories with me about how people come to realize new things about themselves, what was really important to them after all, who loved them and whom they really love, what the meaning of life is and what the afterlife, if any, looks like to them. They may go through a period of regrets, sorrow and mourning before they find wisdom, but it’s there. If you cut off your life too soon, you miss your chance for wisdom. The vast majority of people want to live every last minute of their lives, and don’t want to be pressured by assisted suicide laws to end them.
Reason #16- No on Assisted Suicide
Today’s AD-The first Nazi victims were terminally ill people.
The Nazi party used very emotional propaganda films about terminally ill people who needed the compassion of assisted suicide. Today we Americans are watching similar movies like “Million Dollar Baby,” which got the 2004 Academy Award for Best Picture. The most effective Nazi film told the heart-breaking story of a doctor’s wife who begged her husband to kill her.
Once they sold the German people on assisted suicide and had some doctors on board, the Nazi party moved into the concept of “useless eaters.” Germany was in a terrible depression in the 1930s, worse than America’s. “Useless eaters” were criminally insane, severely handicapped children, very very elderly, etc. Once they eliminated “useless eaters,” the Nazis went on to killing —- well, you’ve got the idea.
For more information, go to article “Hitler, the Nazis and Four Arguments Against Assisted Suicide.”
Reason #15- No on Assisted Suicide
Today’s AD-Assisted suicide laws cannot be written so as to prevent abuse.
This is the reason the American Medical Association opposes assisted suicide. Doctors know that there is no way to control assisted suicide once you make it legal. There is no foolproof way to write the law without opening it to abuse.In Oregon and the Netherlands, for example, assisted suicide laws require two physicians to “sign off” on a suicide. However, some doctors “sign off” routinely without examining patients. One Dutch doctor hurried up a suicide because he needed the bed for another patient. You can’t write a law that covers every contingency so there’s no way to control what happens to your patients once you open that door.
Reason #14- No on Assisted Suicide
Today’s AD-Dying people can be treated for depression.
Many people who are terminally ill are not depressed. At the end of her life, my sister became like a poet or artist, sitting outside and just taking in the beauty of everything. She got an enhanced sense of life, everything became so incredibly beautiful to her because it was not going to last very much longer. However, some terminally ill people are depressed and talk about suicide. If they get antidepressant medications, a good psychologist and a caring spiritual counselor, they can recover emotionally. They often find the courage to face the final work of dying: reconciliations, settling of old disputes, telling others how much they have meant to them, and so forth. Suicide is always an act of despair, and it’s not good to leave the planet in despair.
Reason 13- No on Assisted Suicide
October 16 -The arguments for assisted suicide are all based on emotion.
Emotion is a kind of thought, but emotions are unreliable. We feel empathy when we see a dying person. Our first impulse is to hurry it along, end his suffering. However, behind that emotion of empathy hides a judgment: that person’s life is not worth living and needs to end now.
We can have a similar emotion when we see someone very very old or in a wheelchair or someone like Terri Shiavo. That life is not worth living. Are you feeling compassion or making a judgment?
Reason #12- No on Assisted Suicide
Today’s AD- Assisted suicide sets a bad example for other people.
A handsome young man, the father of two young children with a beautiful wife, a brilliant scientist passionate about his life’s work, was dying much much too young. Yet Randy Pausch inspired us all with his incredible “Last Lecture.” He knew he was dying, but he looked back to check on his two young sons, to make sure they and his wife would be all right, and to leave them and all of us all with a little bit of wisdom. When he was toward the end, his doctor said, “Randy, this may be it.”
He answered, “I’ll get back to you on that.”
Those were his last words.
He took control and he did it his way. We are all grateful for his example.
For more information on Randy Pusch, go to http://download.srv.cs.cmu.edu/~pausch/.
Reason #11- No on Assisted Suicide
October 14 -Insurance companies love assisted suicide.
About 27% of Medicare’s annual $327 billion budget goes to care for patients in their final year of life. That’s a lot of money, and one poison pill is so much cheaper.
You may be young and think that this is a great way to save money in the middle of a health care crisis. You may even think the elderly have a crappy quality of life. The insurance companies believe that too. They like doctors to help people commit suicide. It saves money.
However, what’s going to happen when it’s your turn to die?
Reason #10 Today’s AD
October 13 -The American Medical Association opposes assisted suicide.
Here’s the American Medical Association’s statement as it appears on their website:
E-2.211 Physician-Assisted Suicide
Physician-assisted suicide occurs when a physician facilitates a patient’s death by providing the necessary means and/or information to enable the patient to perform the life-ending act (eg, the physician provides sleeping pills and information about the lethal dose, while aware that the patient may commit suicide). It is understandable, though tragic, that some patients in extreme duress–such as those suffering from a terminal, painful, debilitating illness–may come to decide that death is preferable to life.
However, allowing physicians to participate in assisted suicide would cause more harm than good.
Physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks. Instead of participating in assisted suicide, physicians must aggressively respond to the needs of patients at the end of life. Patients should not be abandoned once it is determined that cure is impossible. Multidisciplinary interventions should be sought including specialty consultation, hospice care, pastoral support, family counseling, and other modalities. Patients near the end of life must continue to receive emotional support, comfort care, adequate pain control, respect for patient autonomy, and good communication.
Reason #9- No on Assisted Suicide
October 12 -Allowing assisted suicide increases teen suicides.
American teens kill themselves at a rate of about one every two hours. About 19% of our teens tell researchers they have experienced depression, and half of those have had suicidal thoughts. Our kids take three times the number of prescription drugs for depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions than do European teens. We have watched them glamorize death in vampire-worship, the Goth culture, and suicide pacts. We have seen kids hold hands and jump in front of trains, believing they are going on to some twilight fantasy of Bella and Edward. Gee Mom, I’m only seventeen.
The teen suicide rate increased since assisted suicide was legalized in Washington and Oregon.
By okaying assisted suicide laws, we are telling our teenagers that suicide is okay and necessary sometimes. Do you really think that’s a good idea?
Reason #8- No on Assisted Suicide
October 11 - You don’t need a doctor to commit suicide.
Assisted suicide gets lumped into abortion issues, but the two are very very different. You don’t need a doctor to commit suicide. There are many ways to do it, and it’s not my place to show you how (even though I am a crime writer and know a lot about painless quick poisons and such).
Suicide is an intensely private act. You don’t need to involve anyone else, and society is better off not approving of it.
Reason #7- No on Assisted Suicide
October 10 – Skilled hospice caregivers can control physical pain.
Some people are more afraid of physical pain than of actually dying.
There is no need for that fear because of modern pain control methods. I watched both my parents and my sister die from cancers that had spread through their bodies, and they did not feel pain, even in their last days. Morphine and other drugs did the trick, and they were not even that sedated, although you can choose that route if you want to.
One reason hospice nurses can control pain is that they don’t have to worry about addiction and can use higher levels of medications. They know how to look for and take care of blockages and other problems. Please do not be afraid of pain.
Reason #6- No on Assisted Suicide
October 9 – The American Nurses Association opposes assisted suicide.
Official Position: “The American Nurses Association (ANA) believes that the nurse should not participate in assisted suicide. Such an act is in violation of the Code for Nurses with Interpretive Statements (Code for Nurses) and the ethical traditions of the profession. Nurses, individually and collectively, have an obligation to provide comprehensive and compassionate end-of-life care which includes the promotion of comfort and the relief of pain, and at times, foregoing life-sustaining treatments.”
#5- No on Assisted Suicide
October 8 -All humans have dignity, even the sick and dying.
One old man was taking care of his wife who had Alzheimer’s disease. His friends said, “Why do you put so much into her care? Can’t you see what she has become?” The old man answers, “Maybe, but I remember who she was.”
No matter where you are in your life, you are still human and you have the dignity of being human. Babies are helpless but they have human dignity. People with terrible handicaps, scars, amputations, mental illness — they still have human dignity. No one and no sickness can take your human dignity away from you. You are still someone’s spouse, someone’s parent, someone’s child, someone’s loved one. No matter what happens to you, you are still you. No one can take that from you, no matter what.
#4- No on Assisted Suicide
October 8 - Suicidal people have a diminished capacity to make the decision to end their lives.
If you tell a psychologist that you are suicidal, he or she has the power to put you in a hospital because you are a danger to yourself. Legally, you have diminished capacity and are unable to make important and rational decisions.
If you say a dying person has a good enough reason to kill his/herself, why not a person in a wheelchair? Someone whose family was killed in an accident? Someone who faces financial ruin? Suicidal people need treatment for depression, not help committing suicide.
#3- No on Assisted Suicide
October 7 - Assisted suicide laws put pressure on dying people to end their lives.
One hospice nurse told me that he has seen families fight over estates and money even as their relative lay dying and could listen to them. The attitude was: Please get this over so we can get our inheritance.
Likewise, in the Terri Schiavo case, her ex-husband stood to gain money and freedom to remarry once she died.
On the other hand, it is very hard for most people to stay near someone they love who is dying. If you want to get your pet’s life over, multiple that by thousands when it’s a person you love. You really want it over, but that’s making it about you. The loving attitude is “I want every possible moment with you. Take your time.”
#2- No on Assisted Suicide
October 5 – Assisted suicide laws make doctors accessories of fact to homicide.
“Accessories before the fact” is a legal term. Let’s say you buy someone a gun, knowing that he plans to kill someone with it. You are an accessory before the fact of homicide and could go to jail for doing that. Similarly, when a doctor provides a dying person with poisons, knowing that the person is going to kill himself, he is an accessory before the fact. This is why the other side now wants to call it “compassion and choices” in dying rather than assisted suicide.
Assisted suicide laws are written so as that all doctors get off the hook for helping murder someone. It becomes a legal parsing of morality. Isn’t that what we hate about lawyers?
#1- No on Assisted Suicide
October 4 - Assisted suicide laws create a world without caring or love.
When we think of people who showed great love and compassion — the Good Samaritans and Mother Teresas of the world –we think of how they stopped and they took the time to help others.
When they saw suffering, they didn’t shoot the person to put him out of his misery. That creates a world without love or caring.
Do you want your kids to grow up in a world like that? When people are so sad they say they want to die, they need love and understanding.
Killing is not compassion. To say that killing is a compassionate choice is to speak in Orwellian Newspeak, a language without meaning. If love is death and compassion is killing, then words mean nothing.
Every human being knows what love is. Love is compassion. Love is caring. Love is saying I’ll walk with you no matter what. I’ll stay with you no matter what. I love you. We both know what that involves.