California to Vote on Legalized Assisted Suicide

Disability Advocates Protest


SACRAMENTO -- June 2007

Points to Remember on AB 374:

1. Assisted Suicide is opposed by the American Medical Association, , the California Medical Association, the California Hospice and Palliative Care Association, the California Disability Alliance, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, the League of United Latin American Citizens, La Raza Roundtable of Santa Clara County, and the Sacramento NAACP, as well as numerous other organizations representing the poor, uninsured, and people with disabilities.

2. It is remarkable that the legislature is considering assisted suicide at a time when millions of low-income Californians and their families still have no access to health care. Is the legislature saying to low-income people, "We won't provide health care, but we will make it easier for you to commit suicide when you're at your most vulnerable and uninsured"? Large numbers of people, particularly among those less privileged in society, would be at significant risk of harm.

3. The six month prognosis threshold used in this bill and under the Oregon law is generally not viewed as medically useful: Many individuals given this prognosis frequently live longer and even recover with appropriate treatment. People with disabilities and chronic illnesses often live many years after a "terminal" diagnosis, yet initial depression and temporary thoughts of suicide are common. Physicians who specialize in end-of-life care know that these feelings are transitory, and that patients respond to support from health care professionals, family and hospice workers. But legalizing assisted suicide would allow anxious, depressed patients to become trapped by their own request for death, and die in a state of unrecognized terror, even though the depression can be treated in most cases.

4. Most of those who died under Oregon's assisted suicide law participated in the lethal procedure because they had psychological distress, not because they were in pain. Statistics from Oregon confirm that pain is not the reason most users of assisted suicide resort to it.

5. The pretense that assisted suicide will be limited to the terminally ill is a protection only on paper that will quickly be breached, as has already happened in Oregon. The so-called "safeguards" in the Oregon law, touted by assisted suicide proponents, are easily avoided. For example, if one's doctors say no, a family can shop for another doctor who will say yes. In the Netherlands, the practice of full blown euthanasia (lethal injections by doctors) and assisted suicide for people with terminal illness has spread to individuals with chronic illness, people with mental health distress, and even sick and disabled children and newborns.

7. Assisted suicide purports to be about free choice and self-determination, but there is significant danger that many people would take this escape due to external pressure. For example, elderly individuals who don't want to be a financial or caretaking burden on their families will sometimes choose assisted death, as Oregon's own statistical reports indicate. Furthermore, research has documented widespread elder abuse in this country. The perpetrators are very often family members (two-thirds, according to the California Attorney General's Office). Such abuse could easily lead to pressures on elders to "choose" assisted suicide, as the Oregon news media have brought to light. Despite extensive efforts by California's legislature and law enforcement to deter elder abuse, assisted suicide could facilitate the ultimate abuse.

8. Assisted suicide poses real danger to people with new disabilities or chronic diseases. Research overwhelmingly shows that people with new disabilities often initially experience despondency and even suicidal feelings, but later adapt well and find great satisfaction in their lives. Working through this initial despondency often takes longer than the mere two-week waiting period in Oregon's law and the California bill. In that early period, before one learns the truth about how good one's quality of life can be, it would be all too easy to succumb to this irrevocable step.

Source: Information on California's 2007 Assisted Suicide Bill (AB 374).

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