Actor Robin Williams’ suicide is considered tragic and horrific. But many of the same people who expressed horror over Williams’ suicide say legally assisted suicide is acceptable, beneficial, and even “honorable.”
Rather than waiting for recently proposed assisted suicide legislation to work through the legislative committee process, a new lawsuit filed Wednesday asks the California Superior Court to find that physicians who provide a assisted suicide prescriptions should not be subject to criminal prosecution for assisting another to “commit suicide.”
The lawsuit wants the court to declare that patients facing the end of life have a “civil right” under the California State Constitution “to make their own decisions about their bodies.”
“If the lawsuit succeeds, terminally ill Californians, like Brittany Maynard, would not have to leave the state to receive legal aid in dying,” the press statement said. Filed by Californians with cancer, physicians, and a national nonprofit disability rights advocacy group, Disability Rights Legal Center, the lawsuit is attempting to “clarify the ability of mentally competent, terminally ill California patients to obtain aid in dying from their physician if they find their dying process unbearable.”
Because California doesn’t have a doctor-assisted suicide law, Brittany Maynard, the young woman diagnosed with late-stage brain cancer, and her new husband Dan Diaz, sought a suicide law in Oregon. With the attractive Maynard as the very publicized face of assisted suicide, the story was marketed more heavily than the Super Bowl. And then the story curiously went away as fast as it had hit.
In January, Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, and Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, introduced the End of Life Option Act, a bill to authorize medical aid-in-dying in California.
Opponents of assisted dying warn that significant numbers of the disabled, the mentally ill, the seriously ill, and even those who are depressed, could end up being swept up in the new proposed California law for assisted suicide, prioritizing cost effectiveness, over higher costs of ongoing care.
“Assisted suicide proponents frequently appeal to free choice and self-determination. But in reality, legalized assisted suicide actually diminishes individual choice, control, and self-determination,” warns the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund.
But Wednesday’s lawsuit “by a dermatologist, an OB/GYN and an anesthesiologist to permit assist suicide, and clarify and expand legal end of life choices in the state to include aid in dying,” would legally decide this issue, ahead of legislation.
Assisted Suicide Increases Deaths
“Suicide is an impulsive and ambivalent act,” said Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, the Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Program in Medical Ethics at UC Irvine School of Medicine. I spoke with Dr. Kheriaty about the recently proposed bill known as the “End of Life Option Act,” to authorize medical aid-in-dying in California. Kheriaty has helped hundreds of people through suicide crises, who said many of the people who want to have physician assisted suicide, are more concerned with being a burden on others.
The newly proposed Senate Bill 128, authored by Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, and Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, is modeled on assisted suicide legislation in Oregon. “It’s time,” Wolk said in a press statement. “No one should have to go through horrific pain and prolonged suffering when the end is clear.”
“The number #1 suicide spot in the world is the Golden Gate Bridge,” Kheriaty said. He said a reporter tracked down people who had survived suicide jumps from the Golden Gate Bridge. When the reporter asked each if they regretted having jumped, Kheriaty said the responses were the same – all said in the last five seconds they regret having jumped.
“You have to be able to get into the mindset of someone,” Dr. Kheriaty said. “The goal is to escape the intolerable suffering. But they need care, support and psychiatric treatment. It’s a real trap for those who are incapacitated or depressed.” And Kheriaty stressed that in those moments of intolerable suffering, people take the most drastic, regrettable measures just to end the pain.
I aksed Kheriaty why so many lawmakers support assisted suicide, rather than psychiatric options. “It’s a libertarian attitude,” he said. “It’s the idea of wanting a choice if things get bad enough.”
Kheriaty said he was concerned with the disregard of people who are not as well-to-do as those who are well-insured, or have financial means. “The disabled, incapicated, uninsured, non-English-speaking, and undocumented won’t have choices,” Kheriaty said.
The actual data and experiences of the significantly increasing number of doctor-assisted deaths in the Netherlands and Belgium, two countries with medically assisted suicide, show that deaths have doubled in just six years, where euthanasia has been legal since 2002.
“It’s not going to be insured, well-to-do, educated people who will be vulnerable to the abuses,” Kheriaty added. “If these bills pass, some people’s lives will be ended without their consent, through mistakes and abuse,” said Marilyn Golden, senior policy analyst with the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund. “No safeguards have ever been enacted or proposed that can prevent this outcome, which can never be undone.”
One of the myths about assisted suicide in Oregon is that it is highly regulated and has strong safeguards, Golden added. “Proponents gloss over the serious lack of safeguards in Oregon’s law.”