As I feared when Brittany Maynard went so public with her decision to end her life through assisted suicide, there are attempts to pass death with dignity laws across the nation. In California, our Legislature is considering Senate Bill 128.
I am so grateful that many disability groups have expressed opposition to this bill, which can lead to abuses. While it’s meant to apply only to terminal illnesses, I fear that individuals with significant disabilities could be pressured by their insurers to agree their condition is terminal. Many more may come to believe they are an inconvenience to their families and it’s their “duty to die.” Still other disabled individuals may suffer from depression and find it tempting to consider assisted suicide as a way out.
For these reasons and so many more, assisted suicide and disability are a deadly combination.
I encourage Californians to join me in telling their legislators they oppose SB 128. They’ll be adding their voices to such prestigious and foresighted organizations as the American Medical Association, American Nurses Association, California Disability Alliance, National Spinal Cord Injury Association and California Catholic Conference.
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Many proponents of the bill point to Oregon and Washington, where assisted suicide is already legal, as examples worth following. I beg to differ.
Safeguards were supposed to prevent patients from seeking out and receiving deadly prescriptions without being thoroughly evaluated, both physically and mentally. This has not proven to be the case. Many individuals have received drugs from doctors they’ve only seen once, without psychiatric or psychological examinations.
In addition, there are no protections in many of these laws for disabled individuals who may feel pressure from family members to no longer be a burden
Data about implementation of the law in many states is faulty, and abuse cases are not investigated. Oregon doctors in 1999 admitted they “cannot determine whether physician-assisted suicide is being practiced outside the framework of the Death with Dignity Act.”
We cannot stand by and allow economic stress and health care budget cuts to endanger the lives of those with disabilities. All life is of infinite worth, and there is value to us and those around us in our suffering. I fear we are trying to put ourselves in God’s place to determine when a life should end.
Our Founding Fathers placed life first in our list of inalienable rights. How dare today’s legislators try to take that right from us and call it choice. Those who are terminally ill or extremely disabled are a vulnerable population and need champions to fight on their behalf. Will you join me in this battle?
Joni Eareckson Tada is an author, speaker and disability advocate who has been a quadriplegic since a diving accident in 1967.