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Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Assisted Suicide Arguments: Part 2

08/19/2016 | Comments

(In November, Coloradans will be voting on a ballot initiative that would legalize physician-assisted suicide (PAS). In the following article, Catholic journalist Connie Pratt, a member of Holy Trinity Parish, rebuts common arguments and dispels common myths regarding assisted suicide.)

I think assisted suicide is justified because it helps people avoid pain in their final days.

While fear of pain is common, only 31% of dying patients need so much as a painkiller the day before they die. In Oregon, pain is not among the top five reasons for PAS. They are, instead, disability issues. What drives this effort is bias against the physically- or mentally-challenged who need some assistance.

Not surprisingly, disability-rights advocates, who routinely face discrimination in health care, are among the strongest opponents of PAS. Like canaries in the coal mine, they see risks the rest of us may miss.

While suicide prevention is obviously needed for those who are depressed or mentally unstable, it’s unnecessary and counterproductive when a doctor determines the patient is competent.

Suicidologists say a patient’s mental illness may not be apparent to those, including doctors, who lack expertise in mental illness. (After all, few suicidal people talk about pink elephants chasing them around the house.) Survey results in the New England Journal of Medicine confirm this: one third of doctors indicated uncertainty about recognizing depression in those who requested a lethal overdose.

The widespread physician failure to detect depression is especially significant among the elderly, whose symptoms (irritability, pervasive disinterest in life, memory lapse, loss of appetite, etc.) are easily dismissed as signs of age. Tragically, some 90% of depressed seniors are not being treated for it.

I think assisted suicide should be allowed for people who’ve made up their minds to die.

Because we humans instinctively cling to life, the ‘decision’ for suicide is typically transitory. Mental-health experts say those who consider suicide fluctuate in their thinking, often within the span of a day or even an hour. In fact, most who attempt suicide — and live — never try it again. (Several who’ve survived a jump off the Golden Gate Bridge say they changed their minds the very moment their feet left the rail.)

This crucial re-thinking is also true of newly-diagnosed or newly-disabled patients. Crisis intervention models are based on the fact that they initially suffer from depression and distorted judgments. But given the time and treatment they need, the overwhelming majority of them conclude life is still very precious.

Assisted suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. It’s an action that can’t be undone. Clinical psychologist Carol Gill, herself disabled, says the wish to die and will to live are so delicately balanced in suicidal people that just suggesting death can be all it takes to push them over the edge. Legalizing PAS means many who don’t really want to die will either kill themselves or be killed by others.

I support rational suicide, a wholly-logical desire among those who are aged or ill.

Many doctors assume serious depression is a natural state for elderly, disabled, or terminally-ill people. It is not. Sadness may be perfectly normal in such situations, but depression isn’t. Sadness does not rule out hope, but depression does. Sadness does not render a person helpless, but depression does.

It is debiliphobia or able-ism — a prejudice as harmful as racism or sexism — to presume that people facing these difficulties are ‘rational’ when they asked to be killed. No clinical evidence supports this. In fact, the terminally-ill are at no greater risk for suicide than are members of the general population.

American Association of Suicidology’s Joseph Richman says “Effective psychotherapeutic treatment is possible with the terminally ill and only irrational prejudices prevent the greater resort to such measures.”

Since there are no bans on suicide, it’s unfair to deny it to those who need help carrying it out.

In reality, legalizing PAS would create, not eliminate, terrible injustice. It would set up a double standard which uses health distinctions to determine those who must be protected from despair versus those who’ll be escorted to its depths. If we’re serious about equal rights, there must be equal suicide prevention.

I think it’s wrong for PAS opponents to resort to ‘scare tactics’ about an imaginary slippery slope.

The concerns are based, not on fears of the future, but on facts from the present. Under these inevitably corrupting laws, the pool of those to be killed expands, while the pool of doctors who object shrinks.

In Holland, they’ve gone from killing the terminally ill, to the chronically ill, to the mentally ill, to the disabled, to seniors tired of living. Elderly hospital patients, afraid to take their meds or drink their juice, hire people to monitor their care. Disabled people carry cards saying “if I’m unconscious, don’t kill me.”

In Oregon, euthanasia activists do virtually all the killing — and control the reporting. Medicaid refuses to cover beneficial treatment but offers to pay for deadly drugs.

In Canada, where their Court has imposed a ‘right’ to be killed, the public-relations veneer has been lifted. Pro-death people demand: that lethal injection be allowed; that waiting periods be removed; that nurses be ordered to kill; and that physicians who object be forced to make “effective referrals” to death doctors.

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