Contrary to claims by euthanasia advocates, assisted suicide laws tend to remove treatment choices from patients, a new report by the National Council on Disability finds.
“Assisted suicide laws are premised on the notion of additional choice for people at the end of their lives, however in practice, they often remove choices when the low-cost option is ending one’s life versus providing treatments to lengthen it or services and supports to improve it,” Neil Romano, chairman of the NCD, told the Christian Institute.
The report, released Oct. 9, is part of a five-part series produced by the council, which has long opposed assisted suicide. The new report builds on findings it originally made in 1997. In the original report, “Assisted Suicide: A Disability Perspective,” the NCA outlined its opposition after concluding that the evidence indicated the limited amount of beneficiaries from such a law were “heavily outweighed by the probability that any law, procedures, and standards that can be imposed to regulate physician-assisted suicide will be misapplied to unnecessarily end the lives of people with disabilities.”
Since then, seven states have legalized physician-assisted suicide: California, Colorado, Oregon, Hawaii, New Jersey, Vermont and Washington. Maine will begin the practice in January. Washington D.C. also permits it.
The report found that Oregon—which in 1997 became the first state to allow assisted suicide—has made assisted suicide options available to those with “disabilities that, when properly treated, do not result in death, including arthritis, diabetes, and kidney failure.”
In a letter to the White House, Romano writes that the report describes “a double standard in suicide prevention efforts where people with disabilities are not referred for mental health treatment when seeking assisted suicide, while people without disabilities receive such referrals.”
The report said such practices result in a “two-tiered” system.
“The difference between these two groups of people will be their health or disability status, leading to a two-tiered system that results in death to the socially devalued group,” the report reads.
The NCD also cited government reports showing a “statistical correlation between assisted suicide under the Oregon law and an increase in other suicides. Before Oregon legalized assisted suicide, its suicide rate was similar to the national average. Yet by 2010, Oregon’s suicide rate was 41 percent above the national average.” When taken together, states with assisted suicide laws are associated, on average, with a 6 percent increase in a state’s total suicide rate.
Additionally, the report took umbrage with so-called “safeguards,” noting that insurers are consistently denying “expensive, life-sustaining medical treatment,” while offering “to subsidize lethal drugs, potentially leading patients to hasten their own deaths.”
Further, many of the laws incorporate strict privacy and confidentiality provisions that circumvent the ability to monitor and track how the laws are being applied or investigate potential mistakes or abuses. In most instances, evidence of consent is not even required when lethal drugs are administered.
“Assisted suicide laws contain provisions intended to safeguard patients from problems or abuse,” the report offered. “However, research for this report showed that these provisions are ineffective, and often fail to protect patients in a variety of ways.”
• Insurers have denied expensive, life-sustaining medical treatment but offered to subsidize lethal drugs, potentially leading patients toward hastening their own deaths.
• Misdiagnoses of a terminal disease can also cause frightened patients to hasten their deaths.
• People with depression are subject to harm where assisted suicide is legal.
• Demoralization in people with disabilities is often based on internalized oppression, such as being conditioned to regard help as undignified and burdensome or to regard disability as an inherent impediment to quality of life. Demoralization can also result from the lack of options that people depend on. These problems can lead patients toward hastening their deaths— and doctors who conflate disability with a terminal illness or poor quality of life are ready to help them. Moreover, most health professionals lack training and experience in working with people with disabilities, so they don’t know how to recognize and intervene in this type of demoralization.
• Financial and emotional pressures can distort patient choice.
• Assisted suicide laws apply the lowest culpability standard possible to doctors, medical staff, and all other involved parties, that of a good- faith belief that the law is being followed, which creates the potential for abuse.
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