Senate Bill 128 would legalize physician-assisted dying in California. It is largely based on Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, which has been in operation for 18 years. Washington, Montana and Vermont have enacted similar laws.
Laura Petrillo believes such measures should be resisted (“Assisted suicide benefits very few, endangers more,” Viewpoints, Feb. 26).
If you read the provisions of SB 128 and the many studies of the Oregon law, you will see that empirical evidence does not support Petrillo’s claims that assisted suicide would “alter the patient-doctor relationship and endanger trust in medicine at the end of life.”
There is no evidence this has happened in Oregon. The doctor, at the request of a competent patient, writes a prescription for a life-ending drug. The patient does not have to take it, and some don’t. The mere availability of the drug, however, enabled patients to live their remaining days with less fear of intractable pain and lack of dignity. How is this supposed to endanger trust between doctor and patient?
Her second claim is that legalizing assisted dying “could subtly coerce the frail and infirm to end their lives.” The question is not whether it “could” do so, but whether it would do so. Again, the evidence from Oregon is that this has not happened.
There are many provisions in SB 128 to guard against misuse and abuse. Two physicians must independently diagnose a terminal illness and the mental competence of patients requesting aid in dying. The patient has to make two requests, 15 days apart, and a written request. Two persons must witness and attest the patient is competent and is not being coerced. The physician must inform the patient of possible treatments, including hospice care, palliative treatment and pain medication.
Petrillo suggests that hospice care and assisted dying are incompatible. But in Oregon, 90 percent of patients who eventually took lethal drugs were in home hospice care.
Let us ensure that Brittany Maynard is the last dying person in California who has to leave her family and friends and move to Oregon to secure the end of life she wanted.
Gerald Dworkin is a professor of philosophy emeritus at UC Davis.