Disability Groups, Lawmakers Condemn Assisted Suicide

Resolution comes as more states debate legalization of medical suicides

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• September 28, 2017 5:00 am


A bipartisan group of lawmakers condemned the spread of physician-assisted suicides at a Wednesday press conference as more states consider legalizing the practice.

Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R., Ohio) announced the introduction of a non-binding resolution criticizing physician-assisted suicide as a threat to society. The resolution says the practice "puts everyone, including those most vulnerable, at risk of deadly harm and undermines the integrity of the health care system."

Wenstrup, a career physician before coming to Congress, said it was needed to give "voice to those most at risk."

"The dignity of human life has carried me through my career," he said. "This is a bipartisan resolution [because] assisted suicide hurts everyone."

Six states and Washington, D.C., allow doctors to prescribe lethal doses of medication to terminally ill patients. The movement to legalize it has taken on new life since 2014, when People magazine published an account of Brittany Maynard's bid to commit suicide after contracting terminal brain cancer. The publicity led her native California to legalize the practice.

States are seeing increased activity to legalize assisted suicide. Legislation has been introduced in 30 states, according to the pro-assisted suicide Death With Dignity; sixteen states have rejected those bills, most recently Nevada in June. Opposition has come in both liberal states, such as Connecticut, and conservative states, such as Oklahoma. Rep. Ralph Abraham (R., La.), who is also a physician, said the resolution was needed to curb momentum for the pro-assisted suicide movement.

"As physicians … we should not have the ability to determine when a patient should die," he said.

The resolution won the support of the National Alliance Against Legalizing Assisted Suicide, a coalition of disability rights groups and anti-assisted suicide activists. Anita Cameron, director of minority outreach at Not Dead Yet and an organizer at disability rights groups ADAPT, said that assisted suicide could threaten vulnerable patients and deny them life-saving, but costly, treatment.

"It's that much easier to recommend death," she said. "The thought of doctor assisted suicide is actually quite frightening."

Dr. Joseph Marine, a cardiologist and associate professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, dismissed the idea that assisted suicide should be part of the American Healthcare system. He said supporters of assisted suicide are driven by "false ideas of prognosis" and the ability of doctors to accurately predict a person's remaining months.

"Assisted suicide is not medical care … (physician assisted suicide laws) allows assisted suicide to masquerade as medical care," he said.

Assisted suicide activists condemned the resolution. Compassion & Choices, formerly known as the Hemlock Society, called on lawmakers to reject the resolution, saying supporters would disregard the will of voters and state legislatures.

"Even though the resolution would not have the force of law, we urge members of Congress to reject it. It contains false statements, and disregards their constituents who strongly support this end-of-life option," Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee said in a statement. "They are turning their backs on constituents who desperately need the peace of mind medical aid in dying provides."

The resolution comes two weeks after the House passed an appropriations bill that would repeal assisted suicide in Washington, D.C.

J.J. Hanson, a Marine Corps veteran, terminal brain cancer survivor, and founder of the anti-euthanasia Patient Rights Action Fund, praised Congress for taking on the issue. Hanson's wife Kristen delivered his remarks because he suffered a seizure several weeks ago, soon after the birth of his second child—and three years after his initial terminal diagnosis.

"I'm thankful I didn't listen to those doctors [who recommended against treatment]," she said. "Too many patients might have listened and given up hope."

Wenstrup's resolution has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Published under: Assisted Suicide