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Debating Suicide

By Rosemarie Jackowski

04 February, 2013

The “Assisted Suicide Bill” does exactly what it is designed NOT to do. It will eliminate choice for the most vulnerable. Unintended consequences are sure to follow if this becomes law. Prejudice cloaked in good intentions is still prejudice

Assisted suicide is a big topic that might be coming to a legislature near you soon. In Vermont most citizens expected movement toward Single Payer Health Care during this legislative session. Instead, much of the discussion is about physician assisted suicide. The Senate Health and Welfare Committee voted 5 to 0 to approve the legislation.

Those on both sides are passionate in their beliefs.

Some oppose suicide on religious grounds. Some oppose on atheistic grounds. Most atheists do not believe in an after life and therefore place a greater value on life here and now.

Everyone already has the right to reject medical care. Those who don't want to receive treatment for a serious illness, can simply make their wishes known. The problem is not too much health care. The problem is lack of access to care.

Those who support suicide argue that it is their body and anything done to it should be up to them with no government interference. They argue that they will not accept any limitations on their choices.

Those opposed make the argument that the government restricts what persons can do with their bodies all the time - every time someone is arrested for smoking pot. Currently, some are celebrating - some are mourning - the largest drug arrest in recent times. In small town Bennington, more than 60 have been targeted in a massive military type drug bust complete with humvees, helicopters, and 100 law enforcement officers in full military gear. We have not had total rights to our own body for a very long time.

We need more, not fewer rights. Including government approved suicide, as an end of life option, does not give more rights - in reality it takes them away.

The proposed Assisted Suicide Law will deprive many of choice. Recent history shows that more than 300 cases of reported abuse of the disabled/elderly have been ignored by the State. This is evidence that the State cannot protect the vulnerable. An Assisted Suicide Law will add another layer of risk. It will make things worse.

For those pressured to die, there will be no choice. Behind closed doors in private, who will be there to protect them? Elder abuse is a major hidden problem. Talk to anyone in a nursing home - give them anonymity, and they will tell all.

Some legislators promise 'safeguards'. There are no safeguards that can insure that there will not be abuse. Some of the most vulnerable will be pressured to end it all for the convenience and sometimes for the financial benefit of others. Patients will be unduly influenced into giving in to family members. Many elderly/disabled have loving supportive families. It is those who do not, who are at the highest risk. There is no way that abuse can be prevented. Imagine being isolated with care givers - Stockholm Syndrome.

Reported - January 26, 2013 - Rutland Herald - "...The House Human Services Committee heard testimony Thursday that APS failed to intervene in a Bennington County case of an 89-year-old woman whose daughter was threatening to kill her...". It appears that the daughter wanted the Mother's room and was willing to kill to get it. Those in loving functional families need to know that there are others who are not so blessed.

How many times has the argument been made that the last six months of life consume too many health care dollars. Recently there was a conference at a local nursing home. The elderly residents had been promised a nice afternoon discussion complete with tea and cookies. Instead they were told, by the visiting 'experts', that maybe they were becoming a burden to their loved ones. Maybe they should consider forgoing all medical care. I watched tears well up in the eyes of many of the elderly residents. They left the conference room that day with a heavy burden of guilt - just because they were not yet ready to die.

Jared Diamond, author of, The World Until Tomorrow, compares the culture today with other cultures. Diamond discusses causes and effects of discrimination against elders in our culture. One example of discrimination is the widespread policy of 'age based allocation of hospital resources'.

Ageism is ingrained in our culture. Could the 'duty to die' be imposed, or even just suggested, to any other group that faces discrimination? The devaluing of the elderly and disabled is now an accepted fact of life and death. That this bill is under consideration is proof. If it was a bill that did not show prejudice against the most vulnerable, it would be written to include everyone - young and old, healthy and sick. Sometimes the young and healthy would chose to end it all.
Years ago, my best friend attempted suicide. She was healthy. She was young - in her 30s. A minor unpleasant family event caused her to become temporarily depressed. One night she attempted suicide. The police intervened. She was rushed to the hospital. There the police told her that Charges would be filed. Upon her release from the hospital she had to appear in Court and explain to the Judge why she had attempted suicide. Needless to say, this made everything worse. She soon accepted a job with a cruise ship line and sailed away. True story - happened in New Jersey. Is suicide still against the law there?

More recently, another friend was searching for a way out. He was not in physical pain. He was not terminally ill. His problem was that he was in a nursing home and the conditions there were not good. What he needed was a Health Care Advocate - someone to advocate for him. The need for Health Care Advocates is one of the biggest issues of our time. Families are dispersed and distant. Often the elderly are abandoned. Friends die. Suddenly a nursing home is the only option. There have been two reported murders in local nursing homes in recent years. No one can estimate how many murders go unreported. Isolation, neglect, and poor living conditions are other important issues.

The Assisted Suicide Bill is the wrong answer to the wrong question. The important question is: How can we improve life and death for all. There are three unmet needs that should be addressed by the legislature.

First - health care must be made available to all. Universal, comprehensive Single Payer is the answer.

Second - the alleviation of pain must be considered. Ethics require that everything scientifically possible should be done to eliminate suffering. It is usually possible to do that without killing the patient.

Third - and most important of all, those at high risk must be protected. There is only one way to do that. We must set up a system of Heath Care Advocates. This does not have to cost tax payers a lot of money. A system based on volunteers could work. The main qualification would be compassion and the pledge to honor privacy.

All we really wanted was Single Payer access to health care - well, we also wanted vision and dental care included. Maybe that's what got the big guys in Montpelier upset.

Will we soon see Grandpa set adrift on an ice floe on the shore of Lake Champlain? There must be a better way.

Rosemarie Jackowski is an Advocacy Journalist, Peace and Justice Activist, and author of BANNED IN VERMONT. dissent@sover.net





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