More Disingenuousness from the Pro-Suicide Lobby

Once again, the promoter of Physician Assisted Suicide have put forward legislation legalizing the practice in Maryland.  As our friends at Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide put it,

These bills – House Bill 399 and Senate Bill 311 – which are often referred to as “Death with dignity” or “aid in dying” by its proponents, are similar to the proposals that have rightly failed year after year.  We need your help to stop it.

Critically, the bill sponsors have not made any changes to the substance of the bill that addresses any of the serious concerns that have been raised by our coalition and allies over the four-plus years we have fought this proposal. All of the major issues remain.  

The physician assisted suicide bill filed this year in Maryland is just as flawed as it has always been, but it already has a hearing just two weeks from today and our coalition needs to make its voice heard.

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The sponsors are putting forth the same bill with the same flaws and making the same flawed and disingenuous arguments they made in the past. We will get to those in a moment.

We have to make a special note first of the absolute perfidy of the sole Republican Senate sponsor of the legislation, Senator Chris West.  Readers of this blog know that we have harangued then Delegate West for his support on this issue while representing a pro-life district.  During the recent campaign, West sought to avoid this criticism as he sought promotion to the State Senate and told the readers at Red Maryland, in response to a question on this very issue,

“What is your position on life issues? (abortion, assisted suicide)
We should stop all abortions after a child is viable (unless the mother’s life is genuinely at risk). PAS is deader than a doornail and won’t be re-introduced until long after I have retired.”

This is the most shameful lie we have seen in our history here at Red Maryland and clear evidence that Senator West has completely broken faith with conservatives who supported his candidacy despite his past positions on the issue.

Now for the running misinformation from physician assisted suicide proponents.

Proponents of physician assisted suicide often claim that they want an honest debate on this issue and insist that if people knew the true facts they would prevail. However, their entire movement is shrouded in euphemism and artifice.

We can start with the main engine driving this movement not only in Maryland, but throughout the country.  An organization calling itself Compassion and Choices was formed in 2007 as the successor to the more honestly named Hemlock Society.

The Hemlock Society, named as a reference to the famed suicide of Socrates, was founded in 1980. Its founder, Derek Humphry, stated that any assistance in one’s suicide should not be a crime and that alternate views of the “dying process” “must not trump the autonomy of the dying person’s own decisions.”  Dr. Jack Kevorkian embodied this radical view of “autonomy” and the right to suicide.  After Kevorkian’s public actions, in defiance of Michigan laws among others, states like Maryland affirmed their laws against assisted suicide.  It is little wonder then that the current physician assisted suicide movement seeks to rebrand itself to move past its Kevorikian past.

Likewise, proponents of physician assisted suicide seek to avoid the term “suicide” itself.  According to the Compassion and Choices website, what they propose is not physician assisted suicide at all even though the bill specifically allows a physician to prescribe a lethal dose of medication that a patient self-administers to end their own life.  Such absurd semantics are beyond Orwellian and demonstrate the fundamental lack of candor of this movement.

This absurd distinction is embodied in the legislation as well.  In last year’s version, as in similar bills introduced throughout the nation, doctors were required to put the cause of death as something other than suicide on the death certificate.  The legislation mandated that even though a patient died as a result of an overdose of medication administered by themselves to end their own lives, the doctor must put the cause of death as the underlying terminal disease with which they were diagnosed.

Such an “unsuicide” would make Orwell proud.

Even the name of the bill was rebranded. Originally the legislation was titled the “Death with Dignity Act” and included the names of two prominent citizens, who have since passed away. This year, the legislation is again more euphemistically titled the “End of Life Option Act” removing any reference not only to suicide, the “end of life option” being advocated, but of death at all.

And it is little wonder that proponents of physician assisted suicide want to avoid engaging the issue of suicide directly.  If they did they would have to respond to inconvenient facts like the recent study of the Southern Medical Journal finding that states that legalized physician assisted suicide saw an overall increase in the rate of suicide in the adult population, independent of those seeking physician assisted suicide. This documented “suicide contagion” comes at a time when our nation has seen an increase in the national adult suicide rate from 1999 to 2010 of nearly thirty percent.

Proponents of physician assisted suicide also want to avoid discussing the impact on the physician patient relationship such laws create.  Major medical organizations from the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians and the American Nurses Association, oppose physician assisted suicide.  Medical professionals often cite the dictates and the spirit of the Hippocratic Oath, the ancient promise made by doctors entering the profession, in their opposition.  The Oath provides, in part, that a physician will take care that their patients suffer no hurt or damage and that,

“Nor shall any man’s entreaty prevail upon me to administer poison to anyone; neither will I counsel any man to do so.”

Obviously, no doctor taking such an oath could prescribe a patient a lethal dose of medication with the intent to poison them to death.  This breach with ancient medical ethics is why so many medical professionals and organizations oppose this legislation.  It was also a major reason cited by dozens of state legislatures and the British Parliament when these bodies overwhelmingly rejected similar legislation.

In response, Compassion and Choices claims that “Debates about the origins and relevance of the Hippocratic Oath are ongoing in the medical community.” They advocate a more nuanced and “modern” view of the doctor-patient relationship in which doctors not only keep patients alive longer but help them end their lives as they wish.

All of this raises some serious questions. If advocates of physician assisted suicide are on the “side of the angels” and their cause is just, why must they rely upon such mendacity? If advocates truly want an honest debate in which all the facts are disclosed, why must they employ such Orwellian language? If physician assisted suicide is morally right and consistent with our culture’s highest values, why does it require a rewriting of millennia old medical ethics?

Opponents of physician assisted suicide, like the honestly named Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide, welcome an honest debate on this issue.  We welcome a true and thorough airing of all the facts in plain language and without euphemism or subterfuge.  We are eager to discuss the fundamental values we want our culture to embrace.

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