From February 2015 – By Pastor Dave Watson
Seven Major Reasons All New Yorkers, Including State Senator Diane Savino, Should Lobby Against the Assisted Suicide/Death with Dignity Bill
Recently Staten Island’s State Senator Diane Savino along with State Senator Brad Hoylman introduced “The New York End-of-Life Options Act” in the New York State Senate. In the press release accompanying the bill’s introduction Senator Savino said “The option to end one’s suffering when facing the final stages of a terminal illness should be a basic human right, and not dependent upon one’s Zip code.” In a recent op-ed published in the Staten Island Advance, Senator Savino shared that her own father’s painful death was part of her motivation for introducing the bill.
There are presently over a dozen other states considering similar bills. Most are modeled after Oregon’s so called Death with Dignity Law. This Law was used by Brittany Maynard who moved to Oregon from California to legally take her life. Maynard took her life on November 1, 2014 to relieve her suffering from a brain tumor.
Let me begin by saying I am very empathetic to the desire of the Senator and others to relieve the suffering of others and in particular our own family members. I lost my father to the horrors of lung cancer when he was just 41 years of age. I have pastored the same local church on Staten Island for over 25 years. During that time I have been called upon to walk with many individuals and their families in and out of the church I pastor through their last days, many in the midst of great suffering. I have counseled them, prayed with them, cried with them. It has never been easy. Let me also say that I don’t always agree with the Senator but I have always respected her forthrightness. I don’t question her motives or motives of others regarding this matter. I think they are simply wrong on this issue.
I. The premise of the bill is wrong.
Please notice I said the premise and not the intent. The intent of the bill is to relieve suffering, which is noble. The assumption is that you can end your own suffering through a prescription (the drug of choice is pentobarbital which is currently in short supply). While it is true that how one dies can mitigate suffering, death itself is not without suffering. Beyond what we know about the physical there is much that we don’t know about the mental and spiritual. When the heart stops and oxygen is cut off to the brain what does the brain feel? When the soul leaves the body what does the soul experience? We just don’t know. What must be said is that the best this bill can provide is the appearance of someone going peacefully. We can’t be sure that this is actually true and for that reason alone I oppose the bill. The appearance of them going peacefully might make us feel good but this is not about us; it is about the terminally ill isn’t it? It is also noteworthy that the pain-killing drugs presently available to the medical profession alleviate to a great degree the issue of intense suffering in the terminally ill.
Something else bothers me greatly about this particular point. This drug, pentobarbital, is used for something else. It is the drug used for the death penalty’s lethal injection. In that case it is
administered by a doctor who monitors the recipient, not just to ensure his/her death, but to do everything possible to make sure that he/she does not suffer. If this drug is so successful in allowing someone to “go peacefully” why is there a need to medically monitor those individuals who receive it to carry out their death sentence? This bill allows for the pill to be given to the individual and for them to take it on their own with no doctor present. Why are we more concerned about the possible suffering of a death row inmate than a terminally ill person? There is something counter-intuitive about this.
II. The effects of the bill will be damaging
I am confident the sponsors of this bill don’t want to trample on the rights of others. However, this bill will indeed do just that. Senator Savino states forcefully that a terminally ill patient has a “basic human right to die.” By claiming this to be a right, the Senator and those in favor of this bill are elevating this to a human rights issue. If this is a “basic human right” then regardless of initial safeguards, every doctor will have to bow to it regardless of their feelings on the matter. In addition, every hospice organization will have to sign on to this viewpoint to get government funding for their services and to participate in certain hospitals and situations. When something is a “basic human right” any personal or religious objections are not allowed to stand (Compare to the current plight of bakers and florists who would prefer, based on their personal beliefs, not to lend their talents/services to gay weddings).
Furthermore, the concept of the right to die will be expanded. The wording of this bill, if it becomes law, will eventually be used to cover those who are emotionally tormented or who just want out. If they can show that they are mentally competent, as stated in the words of the bill, why shouldn’t they be allowed this option? Why should the words “six months” or “terminally ill” stop them if they have a right to die. The courts and lawyers will get involved and the bill will be expanded via judicial fiat. In light of this reason alone, this bill should be opposed.
III. The main group behind this bill has another agenda
If you think my words above are hyper exaggerations from someone who doesn’t have anything else to do but cry wolf, please consider the following. This bill is modeled after the Oregon Law which has been in effect since 1998. This law was recently spotlighted in the difficult situation of Brittany Maynard who moved to Oregon so she could make use of the law. Her situation was highlighted by a group called Compassion and Choices who boast that for 30 years they have sought to allow people to experience death with dignity. Sounds pretty good doesn’t it? Compassion and Choices is the product of the merger of two organizations, The End of Life Federation and The Hemlock Society. That’s right, the Hemlock Society, who from its inception until the merger in 2005 lobbied in their own words “for voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide to be made legal for terminally and hopelessly ill adults.” This is the core of who they are. By the way, voluntary euthanasia means taking your own life without the help of a physician and even with the help of someone else. My point is that these are the people
who drafted the words of the Oregon Law and thus the New York bill. Their goal is to expand it. They have written it that way. This is just a first step. They want a world where suicide, assisted suicide and euthanasia are commonplace. The Law will be challenged in court as being too restrictive and expanded. They believe that everyone has a fundamental right to die. The acknowledgement of that right is their ultimate goal. Because of who is behind the crafting of this bill, the bill should be voted against.
IV. The bill places too much trust in Doctors, Psychologists and Insurance Companies.
The language of this bill holds that a mentally competent, terminally ill adult with six months or less to live would have the option to request a prescription for life-ending medication. This requires that both a doctor and psychologist/psychiatrist be involved. Doctors aren’t God. Expiration dates only come from the Original Manufacturer. Haven’t all of us met at least one person who was told they have six months or less to live who lived much longer? Why? Medicine is not an exact science. Psychologists are not God. Mental competence is a matter of opinion. How many expert witnesses are called to determine one’s competence for trial or in an insanity defense? At least two and they usually have two different opinions. Psychology is not an exact science. Beyond that, I would argue that the situation of being diagnosed with a terminal illness has to cloud one’s judgment to some extent and the concept of mental competence then is compromised.
Let me also speak to another very difficult issue here. Those involved in treating people take an oath, The Hippocratic Oath, in fact. In its original form it states the following, “I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.” The essence of what it means to be a doctor is to facilitate healing. This bill promotes something in direct contradiction to this oath. Though a doctor is not required to provide the “death with dignity” option, capitalism will corrupt that and at some point the Law will require it. Beyond that, just like medical marijuana in California, the need for this drug will be nuanced. Physicians aren’t perfect people. They can and will be tempted to make compromises in regard to the Law’s definition of medical necessity. Many physicians in the name of patient’s right and the patient as consumer will give into the temptation and write a script that is borderline at best in regards to its necessity. For this reason this bill should be opposed.
Added to this is the concern that comes from the role of insurance companies. I am sure that safeguards will be put into this bill to, on the surface, protect against their involvement. It is very easy though to imagine health insurance companies refusing or limiting payments for certain other drugs or services in order to encourage a terminally ill patient to pass as soon as possible. This could increase a terminally ill’s patients suffering and desire to die. This would be done in order to save money. They are going to die anyway, why waste our resources on them? Does anyone really believe this will not happen? This bill needs to be stopped in its tracks.
V. The bill puts wrongful pressure on the terminally ill and their families.
We live in a world of convenience. We live in a world where health-care is getting more and more expensive. A terminally ill person can cost a family a tremendous amount in time, money and emotional energy. Many terminally ill people, especially the elderly, don’t want to be a burden or bother to anyone. They could easily perceive that they are just that in spite of anything their loved ones may say. They may be depressed because they feel their worth is gone. They are angry with God, self, others and life. Do we want them making this decision?
The families of terminally ill patients are worn out. They are beaten and many times they just want it over. Once the holidays are over or the resources depleted both physically and financially these desires are often expressed. Do we want them advising these terminally ill individuals? They will. How can we know for sure the terminally ill are making an authentically free choice? We cannot know because many of these of the terminally ill are vulnerable and easily manipulated. This bill should be defeated for this reason.
What’s more, if a terminally ill patient passes without using the prescription, what prevents that pill from finding its way to the black-market? I know it’s against the law but the pill is out there. It’s a commodity some people, who can’t get it legally, want to have to relieve their suffering. Others may want to use it to inflict suffering on others. Pills can be stolen, traded, lost or sold. It’s deadly. Nothing can stop this kind of abuse.
VI. The bill misunderstands dying with dignity
Dying with dignity doesn’t means dying without pain and suffering. Sadly, pain and suffering are a part of the human condition. I had the sacred privilege of being in attendance as individuals leave this life for the next. They all experienced some level of physical pain and even more emotional pain because of who they were leaving behind. Gratefully, we live in a world where much of the pain associated with physical death can be lessened through pain medicine. There is very little that can be done about the emotional pain. But dying with dignity is not the absence of pain. Death with dignity is the presence of acceptance of a Will greater than my own and then making the most of every moment one has with friends and family. Death with dignity means I walk out of this life recognizing that it is not me who calls the shots but Someone else. Death with dignity means I let God make the call as to when I leave this earth. Death with dignity means I understand that there is a process that I must go through that has a greater purpose than I can understand and I will let it play out. We often complain of physicians playing God. The fact is this bill promotes both the physician who holds the pen for the script and the patient who has the bill in hand to gods. It promotes a pseudo sense of control over one’s own destiny. Let’s not perpetrate this illusion by a bad legislative act.
VII. This bill misunderstands the source of human dignity.
Why does any person deserve dignity? Why do we value someone so much that we desire they be treated with dignity even in death? Their value doesn’t come from their place on the food chain. This is not a position the human species evolved to. Our sense of dignity for each other is from our Judean/Christian roots. Our dignity or value comes from the belief that we are created in the womb in the image of God. This Judean/Christian foundation spills over to our Declaration of Independence which states “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Our Founding Fathers knew that our dignity, my dignity, your dignity comes from God. God manufactured me. God alone has the right to choose my expiration date. I die with dignity when I accept that. When I see myself not as a sovereign but as someone who lives under the rule of Another I can be one who experiences value and dignity in life and in death. The source of our value, the Almighty, the Creator, is completely ignored in this bill. This bill however can’t be ignored. It must be defeated.