Hundreds of concerned citizens turned out yesterday for the public hearing on House Bill 1991, the Physician-Assisted Suicide bill. The pro-life side was well-represented with doctors, lawyers, faith leaders and even misdiagnosed patients testifying against the bill. MFI Legal Counsel Jonathan Alexandre and I both spoke out against the bill as well.
It was revealing how several advocates for the bill linked it to their support for abortion, not just in repeating the language of “choice” but saying that assisted suicide is also about “a women’s control over her body.” Another doctor actually said that because physicians assist in the birthing process, with C-sections, epidurals, forceps, etc., they have a moral responsibility to assist with the dying process. This type of reasoning is bizarre, if not downright frightening from the mouth of a doctor. Fortunately, members of the legislative committee seemed equally perplexed by some of these arguments.
Dan Diaz, the husband of assisted suicide poster child Brittany Maynard also testified, continuing the Compassion and Choices campaign of exploiting Brittany’s tragic case for political gain. Mr. Diaz spoke about the suffering his wife sought to avoid in taking her own life. He also said that his Catholic faith compelled him to not judge the decisions people make about the end of their lives. This level of moral and theological confusion is hard to comprehend.
Since the failed ballot referendum in 2012, I have been carefully following the unsuccessful efforts to change our Commonwealth’s laws to allow for physician-assisted suicide. Therefore, I am very familiar with the multitude of strong arguments against bills like this:
- How assisted suicide would undermine the historical ethical safeguards of the medical profession
- That this bill, as written, would lead to elder abuse, as its provisions are easily exploitable by unscrupulous heirs
- That assisted suicide, in an age of skyrocketing healthcare costs, would end up targeting the economically disenfranchised
- That terminal diagnoses have an error rate of 30%
However, the concern that has struck me the most as I’ve sat through hearings like this is actually the argument in FAVOR of assisted suicide.
As the terms “compassion and choices” and “death with dignity” indicate, the advocates of this bill are seeking to end lives before pain or loss of control of one’s body become extreme. What this means, philosophically and morally, is that there is a threshold to one’s “quality of life.” According to this ideology, if one falls below this threshold, due to illness or injury, or perhaps depression, then his or her life is no longer worth living. It loses its value to the community and its legal protection.
This would be a disastrous precedent for our Commonwealth. By necessity, that threshold quality of life would be subjective, even arbitrary, and who gets to decide it? Even in this current bill, the decision is made somewhere between patient, doctor and witnesses. Is it really much of a stretch to see how that would quickly yield, under existing economic pressures, to a decision made by insurance companies or government bureaucrats?
If we pass this bill which eliminates the legal requirement to protect and preserve ALL lives, even when their quality is “too low,” there will quickly be nothing but good intentions left to force health care providers and health care payers to expend scarce resources on those lives deemed unworthy.
As I told the committee members, many years ago their predecessors wrote that we have “certain unalienable rights.” The first right listed is “life”— perhaps because liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not much good without it. But they are all unalienable, which means we cannot, must not, even attempt to forfeit them ourselves.
We will keep you posted on the status of this bill.