Often, the first charge of proponents of physician assisted suicide (PAS) to those of us who are against it is “you are taking away my choice to die when I want to by fighting against assisted suicide legislation”.
Try as I may, I simply cannot understand that view. How am I taking away their choice? Aren’t there choices of when and how to die without physician assisted suicide? Does assisted suicide offer real choice to its proponents?
Currently, and contrary to popular misconception, suicide is not illegal in the United States. If someone is sick and in great pain, they can choose to end their life in a number of ways, including stopping treatment, stopping nutrition and water, or taking an overdose of pain pills that are already available. For a terminally ill person, hospice stands ready to make the first two approaches painless and peaceful.
The “choice”, loosely speaking, that proponents are talking about is to be able to ask their doctor for life-ending medications and if their own doctor says no, the ability to doctor shop until they find a doctor who will agree to their request.
Unfortunately, physician assisted suicide offers no actual choices. PAS removes choice by opening the way for insurance companies to deny payment for lifesaving or life-extending treatments and medications, but state that they are willing to pay for the suicide cocktail or drug instead. This has already happened in Oregon and California. Insurance companies are concerned about their bottom line; chemotherapy and other life-saving or extending drugs and treatments cost thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars, while the cost of suicide drugs is much cheaper and co-pays are sometimes as low as $1.20. With Congress set on doing away with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and replacing it with the American Health Care Act (AHCA), insurance companies will be even more emboldened to take away people’s choice in health care.
If proponents took the time to think beyond their personal experiences as typically more privileged members of society, they would also see that what they view as choice is actually giving a doctor permission to devalue the lives of people with disabilities and communities of color, two groups who get notoriously inferior health care from the medical profession.
As someone whose mother was erroneously determined to be terminally ill and whose father was denied essential treatments and surgeries because doctors determined that he had “no quality of life” due to his disability, I am sympathetic to people wanting to have the choice to take matters into their own hands when that time comes for them. The thing is, that choice is already available. Physician assisted suicide is not that choice. There is no good in such legislation, only harm.