Marilyn Golden

Another View: Assisted suicide fraught with consequences

Published: Sunday, Jul. 14, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 2E

The topic of legalizing assisted suicide reappears every few years in California. Thus is the case with the recent commentary in The Bee titled "Assisted suicide could provide peaceful end" (Viewpoints, July 7).

Efforts to legalize assisted suicide have been attempted in California three times, each time failing due to broad bipartisan opposition that included major disability rights organizations, independent living groups, doctors, and civil rights and faith-based groups. Each bill failed because of precarious loopholes, dangerous provisions and insufficient oversight.

In Oregon and Washington, two states where assisted suicide is legal, there is virtually no oversight or regulatory authority. Just Google names such as Barbara Wagner, Kate Cheney or Randy Stroup and you will find tragic stories behind legalizing assisted suicide.

I recall being at the Capitol hearing in 2006 when then-Senate Judiciary Chairman Joe Dunn, a Democrat, voted to stop the bill and noted he could not trust that this would not become a cost issue or include people who didn't actually have terminal illnesses.

In fact, cost is always a concern. As the health care industry evolves, cost of care is becoming an increasingly prominent decision point, which in turn prompts more attempts by cost-minded administrators and HMOs to cut these costs however they can.

An example is the experience of Barbara Wagner, a grandmother from Oregon. During her experience with lung cancer in 2008, she was prescribed a chemotherapy treatment her doctor believed was appropriate and that she wanted. Instead, Wagner received a letter from the Oregon state health plan that indicated it would not pay for the treatment prescribed by her doctor; however, they would pay for her assisted suicide.

Legalizing assisted suicide offers no second chances. Take, for example, a person living with a disability who faces a terminally ill prognosis. Whispers of how expensive their care will be, plus feelings of depression, introduce the message that assisted suicide is cheaper, more efficient and will make things easier on the family.

Society must take a critical look at any proposal to legalize assisted suicide. It's a dangerous Pandora's box and inevitably reduces patient choice by introducing a plethora of crushing pressures that push seriously ill people and, by extension, some with chronic illness and physical disabilities toward a final, cost-cutting conclusion.

Marilyn Golden is a senior policy analyst with the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (www.DREDF.org) in Berkeley.

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