The deadly and dangerous practice of assisted suicideis now legal in five states (Oregon, Washington, Vermont, California, and
Colorado) and the District of Columbia, our nation's capital.1 With new momentum and lots
of money, assisted suicide proponents are pursuing an aggressive nationwide
campaign to advance their agenda through legislation, ballot measures, litigation,
and public advertising, targeting states they see as most susceptible to their
polls indicate that the public is receptive to the general concept of assisted
suicide. But the same polls show that when the public learns about the dangers of
assisted suicide, especially for those who are poor, elderly, disabled, or
without access to good medical care, their views shift against the practice. The
following dangers are among the top reasons to oppose assisted suicide.
A Deadly Mix with Our Profit-Driven Health Care System
- Some patients in
Oregon and California have received word that their health insurance will pay
for assisted suicide but will not pay for treatment that may sustain their
Puts Vulnerable Persons at Risk of Abuse and Coercion
lethal drugs have been prescribed, assisted suicide laws have no requirements for assessing the
patient's consent, competency, or voluntariness. Who would know if the drugs
are freely taken since there is no supervision or tracking of the drugs once
they leave the pharmacy and no witnesses are required at the time of death? Despite
a reporting system designed to conceal rather than detect abuses, reports of
undue influence have nonetheless surfaced in Oregon.4
- Elder abuse is considered a major health problem in the United
States, with federal estimates that one in ten elder persons are abused.5 Placing
lethal drugs into the hands of abusers generates an additional major risk to
- Assisted suicide laws often allow one of the two witnesses to the
request for lethal drugs to be an heir to the patient's estate. Therefore, an
heir or friends of the heir can encourage or pressure the patient to request
lethal drugs and then be a witness to the request.
Dangerously Broad Definition of Terminal Illness
- Assisted suicide
laws typically appear to limit eligibility to terminally ill patients who are
expected to die within six months but don't distinguish between persons who
will die within six months with treatment
and those who will die within six months without
treatment. This means that patients with treatable diseases (like diabetes or
chronic respiratory or cardiac disease) and patients with disabilities
requiring ventilator support are all eligible for lethal drugs because they
would die within six months without the treatment they would normally receive.
Pain Not the Primary Issue
pain is not among the top reasons for taking lethal drugs. Per official annual state
reports, in 2016, 90% of Oregon patients seeking lethal drugs said they were
doing so because they were "less able to engage in activities making life
enjoyable" and were "losing autonomy," and 49% cited being a "burden" on
family, friends or caregivers. And in Washington, 52% cited being a "burden" as
a reason, while only 35% cited a concern about pain.
No Psychiatric Evaluation or Treatment Required
medical literature showing that nearly 95% of those who commit suicide had a
diagnosable psychiatric illness (usually treatable depression) in the months
the prescribing doctor and the doctor he or she selects to give a second
opinion are both free to decide whether to refer suicidal patients for any
psychological counseling. Per Oregon's official annual report, from 2013-2016
less than 4% of patients who died under its assisted suicide law had been
referred for counseling to check for "impaired judgment."
counseling is provided to patients seeking assisted suicide, its goal isn't to treat the underlying disorder or
depression; it's to determine whether the disorder or depression is "causing impaired judgment [emphasis
The doctors or counselor can decide that, since depression is "a completely
normal response" to terminal illness, the depressed patient's judgment is not
Threatens Improvement of Palliative Care
is compelling evidence that legalizing assisted suicide undermines efforts to
maintain and improve good care for patients nearing the end of life, including
patients who never wanted assisted suicide.9
suicide creates two classes of people: those whose suicides we spend hundreds
of millions of dollars each year to prevent and those whose suicides we assist
and treat as a positive good. We remove weapons and drugs that can cause harm
to one group, while handing deadly drugs to the other, setting up yet another
kind of life-threatening discrimination.
There are many more reasons why legalizing
assisted suicide is a bad and dangerous idea. For further information, visit www.usccb.org/toliveeachday and www.patientsrightsaction.org.
 Montana's highest court, while not
officially legalizing the practice, suggested in 2009 that it could be allowed
under certain circumstances.
 Susan Harding, "Health Plan Covers
Assisted Suicide But Not New Cancer Treatment," KVAL News (published July 31, 2008, updated Oct. 30, 2013) (noting that the Oregon Health Plan
will pay for coverage for chemotherapy that cures cancer, but not for
chemotherapy drugs that can extend life); Jennifer Popik, "Terminally Ill
Oregon Patients Denied Treatment but Reminded They Can Choose
Physician-Assisted Suicide" (July 2008), available at http://www.nrlc.org/archive/news/2008/NRL08/Oregon.html.
 Bradford Richardson, "Assisted-Suicide
Law Prompts Insurance Company to Deny Coverage to Terminally Ill California
Woman," Washington Times (Oct. 20,
 In one case, a
woman with cancer committed suicide with a doctor's assistance even though she
had dementia, was found mentally incompetent by doctors, and had a grown
daughter described as "somewhat coercive" in pushing her toward suicide. Hendin
& Foley, Physician-Assisted Suicide
in Oregon, supra at 1626-27.
 Lachs, Mark S.,
M.D., M.P.H., and Karl A. Pillemer, Ph.D. "Elder Abuse." Edited by Edward W.
Campion, M.D. The New England Journal of Medicine 373 (November 12, 2015):
1947-1956. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMra1404688. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMra1404688
 H. Hendin, M.D., Seduced by Death: Doctors, Patients, and
Assisted Suicide (New York: W.W. Norton, 1998): 34-35.
 Or. Rev. Stat. §
127.825; Wash. Rev. Code § 70.245.060.
 See H. Hendin and
K. Foley, "Physician-Assisted Suicide in Oregon: A Medical Perspective," 106 Michigan Law Review 1613-45 (2008) at
1623-4; available at https://docs.google.com/file/d/0BwDPETL1NPnAMmFjZTNjNzctOGU4NS00MTUwLTgxZjAtM2I4NDhlMjA2OTFj/edit?hl=en&pli=1.
 "Vermont VNA
Seeking to Identify Causes of State's Low Hospice Utilization Rates," Hospice and Palliative Care News, April
29, 2015, at http://healthrespubs.com/hospice-and-palliative-care-news/2015/04/29/vermont-vna-seeking-to-identify-low-hospice-utilization-rates/. J. Ballentine et
al., "Physician-Assisted Death Does Not Improve End-of-Life Care," Journal of Palliative Medicine 19 (2016): 1-2.
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