Monday, November 5, 2012

Suicide by Choice? Not So Fast

I received this link last week from a friend who said: "An interesting article in the New York Times by a man who suffers profound disabilities. The writer explains he is against the assisted-suicide bill pending in Massachusetts (I think) because of concerns that disabled patients might be coerced into death."

It was enlightening indeed.
NEXT week, voters in Massachusetts will decide whether to adopt an assisted-suicide law. As a good pro-choice liberal, I ought to support the effort. But as a lifelong disabled person, I cannot.

There are solid arguments in favor. No one will be coerced into taking a poison pill, supporters insist. The “right to die” will apply only to those with six months to live or less. Doctors will take into account the possibility of depression. There is no slippery slope.

Fair enough, but I remain skeptical. There’s been scant evidence of abuse so far in Oregon, Washington and Montana, the three states where physician-assisted death is already legal, but abuse — whether spousal, child or elder — is notoriously underreported, and evidence is difficult to come by. What’s more, Massachusetts registered nearly 20,000 cases of elder abuse in 2010 alone.

My problem, ultimately, is this: I’ve lived so close to death for so long that I know how thin and porous the border between coercion and free choice is, how easy it is for someone to inadvertently influence you to feel devalued and hopeless — to pressure you ever so slightly but decidedly into being “reasonable,” to unburdening others, to “letting go.”

Perhaps, as advocates contend, you can’t understand why anyone would push for assisted-suicide legislation until you’ve seen a loved one suffer. But you also can’t truly conceive of the many subtle forces — invariably well meaning, kindhearted, even gentle, yet as persuasive as a tsunami — that emerge when your physical autonomy is hopelessly compromised.
Do go read the whole thing, especially if you live in an area where this is an issue to be voted upon tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. A co-worker of mine had to take time off work to go to assist her elderly in-laws with their disabled son. He was hospitalized and 3 different Dr's offered to "help" him. He was told he was being selfish to burden his parents. One Dr even told him, "You don't even have to know. I can just come in while you are sleeping and you'll never have to hurt again." He called his parents in a panic and from that moment on, he was never left alone for even a minute. Real compassionate /sarc.