Assisted Suicide: Legality and Ethics

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Oregon’s “Death with Dignity Act” took effect in 1997. Since then, four more states now permit some sort of physician-assisted suicide for people who are terminally ill.

Proponents say that assisted suicide gives the power to the patient to take control of his or her life in the end. Opponents say that such laws could be used to coerce frail or elderly people who have become burdens, financially or otherwise, on their family or caretakers.

Still others warn that insurance companies may turn to such policies to avoid expensive treatments.

Mildred Solomon, president of non-profit bioethics research institute The Hastings Center, said that having the option to take their own lives gives some people the sense of some form ofcontrol that helped them accept death peacefully.

“Part of the argument that proponents have given, is that this is meant to also be psychologically reassuring, to help people feel that they are in control” she said. “And once they know they have this ability, they can relax and enjoy the time they do have.”

Solomon also said that not everyone who requests the medication use it.

“About a third who request it, don’t ever act on it, she said.

Diane Coleman, president of the grassroots disability rights group Not Dead Yet, said that many factors surrounding the issue have not been properly examined, including the impact of the for-profit health care industry.

She cited the example of Barbara Wagner, who in 2008 was denied coverage for a cancer treatment that would have extended her life a matter of months, but was offered the option of coverage for the medication to kill herself.

“[She]” received a letter from the Oregon health plan, which is their Medicaid agency, saying that they couldn’t get their prescribed chemotherapy but they could get assisted suicide covered under the program,” Coleman said. “That caused a big stir, it was on ABC news, and as a result, the state doesn’t send that letter anymore. So it doesn’t actually change whether assisted suicide is provided, and it doesn’t change what the coverage provisions are in the state program.”

Is physician-assisted suicide an ethical and humane option for people who are terminally ill and choose that option? Listen to the full hour to help you decide, and let us know what you think.

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  • MargaretDore

    I am an attorney in Washington State where assisted suicide is legal. I am also President of Choice is an Illusion, a human rights organization opposed to assisted suicide and euthanasia.

    Below, please find three publications describing problems with legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia. The first two publications are short. Non-lawyers tell me that they especially like the first one. The third publication is a detailed legal/policy memo.

    The publications:

    1. Margaret K. Dore, “‘Death with Dignity’: What Do We Advise Our Clients?,” King County Bar Association, Bar Bulletin, May 2009, at https://www.kcba.org/newsevents/barbulletin/BView.aspx?Month=05&Year=2009&AID=article5.htm

    2. Margaret K. Dore, “Preventing Abuse and Exploitation: A Personal Shift in Focus (An article about guardianship, elder abuse and assisted suicide),” The Voice of Experience, American Bar Association, Volume 25, No. 4, Winter 2014, at http://choiceisanillusion.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/dore-preventing-abuse-and-exploitation-aba.pdf

    3. Legal/policy memo regarding a recent assisted suicide/euthanasia law proposed in New Jersey. Attached documentation includes government reports from Oregon where assisted suicide is legal. See: http://choiceisanillusion.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/nj-a2270-legal-analysis_001.pdf

    Please contact me with any questions or concerns.

    Thank you,

    Margaret Dore, Esq., MBA
    Law Offices of Margaret K. Dore, P.S.
    Choice is an Illusion, an human rights organization
    http://www.margaretdore.com
    http://www.choiceillusion.org
    1001 4th Avenue, 44th Floor
    Seattle, WA 98154
    206 389 1754 main reception
    206 389 1562 direct line

  • Hondok

    I hope the show will cover more about the opposition to assisted suicide. Disability rights opposition just stopped movements for legalization all over the Northeast, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and, so far, New Jersey. http://tinyurl.com/ld2fvxw