In early October, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the End of Life Option Act, legalizing physician-assisted suicide in California.
The law, which failed to pass out of the Assembly committee during its regular session, was furtively introduced during a special session designed to address Medicare costs.
Over the objections of dozens of different religious, professional, and citizen advocacy groups, the state Senate passed it, and Brown signed it.
The national pro-life community views this as an ominous setback. More than half the states have already entertained bills to legalize assisted suicide.
“If it becomes the law in California, that’s going to be very, very significant nationally,” said George Eighmey, vice president of Death With Dignity.
According to one Gallup poll, 70 percent of Americans favor the idea of assisted suicide.
Pro-lifers understand that these numbers are driven by the compassion of voters, who, naturally enough, want to help all people face death without fear of undue pain or the loss of dignity. They often fail to consider, however, that medical advances have increasingly made “death with dignity” available to all, whereas physician-assisted suicide opens a Pandora’s box filled with many dark, unintended consequences for society.
Foremost among these is the transformation of the patient/physician relationship.
In a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown, members of the American College of Physicians wrote, “We are deeply sympathetic to the concerns and fears that patients and their families have at the end of life. However, (physician-assisted suicide) is not the answer.”
In fact, we see it as the abandonment of the dying patient. It is not the role of the physician to give individuals control over the cause and timing of death — the medicalization of suicide … We need to ensure that all patients have access to palliative care and hospice services at the end of life rather than promote suicide.”
Beyond the corruption of medicine, opponents of physician-assisted suicide cite many other dangers.
For example, coupled with misdiagnosis, physician-assisted suicide can lead to tragic, untimely death; it subtly pressures depressed seniors to “get out of the way” by choosing suicide. It also tempts unprincipled relatives or doctors to push them out of the way through coercion, deception or even active euthanasia; it tempts bureaucrats and insurance companies to subsidize physician-assisted suicide rather than the more costly (but humanly rewarding) end-of-life care; and it produces a “suicide contagion effect” in which more and more people of all ages and circumstances begin to entertain suicide as a coping strategy and then actually choose it.
Such concerns are not mere speculation. Statistics show that physician-assisted suicide has already put the Netherlands on a slippery slope, not only to voluntary euthanasia for people with psychological problems and non-terminal diseases, but also to involuntary euthanasia of the handicapped of all ages and those suffering from psychological disorders.
Confronted with the hard evidence, Dutch ethicist Theo Boer wrote, “I used to be a supporter of physician-assisted suicide, but with 12 years of experience, I now take a different view. At the very least, let’s pause till we have an intellectually satisfying analysis of the reasons behind this explosive increase in the numbers. For once the genie is out of the bottle, it is not likely to ever go back in again.”