Thursday, April 7, 2016

Letter to the editor: The facts about assisted suicide

The following MCCL letter to the editor ran on April 1 in the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. It was written in response to a column touting the bill to legalize assisted suicide in Minnesota.

Forum columnist Mike McFeely dismissively claims that opposition to assisted suicide in Minnesota "appears twofold"—the Catholic Church and Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life ("We should be able to die with dignity," March 20). Not true. Not even close. The opposition is broad and well-grounded.

During the March 16 committee hearing for Sen. Chris Eaton's bill to legalize assisted suicide—which she withdrew after it became clear that it would not pass—17 people testified against it. They included doctors, nurses, disability rights advocates, professors, attorneys, and people with grave illnesses (contrary to McFeely's suggestion, no officials from the Catholic Church spoke).

Indeed, opposition to assisted suicide brings together liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, the secular and the religious. It unites the American Medical Association and the American College of Physicians, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

These groups object to assisted suicide for good reason. The dangers are numerous. Eaton's bill, for example, provides no safeguards whatsoever once the lethal drug has been dispensed—no witness is required at the death. Nor does it require psychiatric evaluation before patients receive the lethal prescription. And, given the bill's loose definition of "terminal illness" and the difficulty of making an accurate prognosis, legalizing assisted suicide would lead to the killing of patients who have years left to live.

Under Oregon's assisted suicide law, which McFeely touts as a model, depressed patients have received lethal prescriptions. Patients who went on to live for years (far beyond the required six-month prognosis) have received lethal prescriptions. Some Medicaid patients have been denied expensive treatment and offered life-ending drugs instead. And the annual number of assisted suicides has consistently risen—as has the regular (non-assisted) suicide rate.

These are not what McFeely calls the "fears" of "irrational opponents." They are established facts, many supplied by Oregon's own reports. Minnesotans should continue to reject assisted suicide.