It is impossible to create a perfect law. Laws can be misinterpreted and misused, and have unintended consequences. Normally we accept this and hope the good from a law outweighs its downsides.
However, this cannot be the case with Sen. Lois Wolk’s End of Life Option Act. Despite all the safeguards written into Senate Bill 128, there is no turning back from this proposal. Lives are at stake.
I’m 21 and have been using a wheelchair for the past 11 years as a result of an autoimmune reaction to a life-saving transplant. I know how a person’s psychology can be impacted by disability or serious illness.
Having to go through my adolescence unable to walk, I know that there are days – weeks sometimes – where the challenges and obstacles seem overwhelming. I couldn’t play sports. I couldn’t dress myself. Some days I could barely make it out of bed.
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But I also know that there are periods of hope. People bounce back. People change their minds and outlooks. SB 128 may be well-meaning, but studies have shown that most suicides are committed on impulse, and the vast majority of those who survive a suicide attempt say they regretted their actions.
Knowing this, and that death is final, why would we want to make it easier and quicker for people to end their own lives?
Mood isn’t the only variable with a serious illness. Sometimes people get misdiagnosed. People defy the odds and outlive doctors’ predictions. But a person who is distraught over a prognosis of a few months to live might end his or her life prematurely rather than suffer from the ever-present thought of imminent death.
Sick people are also vulnerable to financial or familial pressures – stressors they usually overcome, but that might overwhelm them if SB 128 were to make suicide more convenient and socially acceptable.
Brittany Maynard, the main inspiration behind the bill, had a compelling story. But the desire to ease the suffering of people like her does not justify the avoidable loss of life that will happen if this measure is passed. It is careless to get caught up in the emotion of her case.
There were times, during my teen years, when I despaired at my condition. There were long periods when I feared that my life was over, or that if it wasn’t, it should be. I was wrong. Next June, I will graduate from Stanford University.
Patients who have been given an accurate prognosis of six months or less to live should be helped by doctors to ease their pain and to provide them with as much comfort as possible in their final days, but it is unfair and immoral to smooth their path toward a decision that cannot be reversed.
The state of California cannot sanction a law that leads to needless deaths.
Elliott Lapin, a rising senior at Stanford University, is a summer intern at The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board.