When is suicide not suicide? 3/11/16

The Legislature’s Judiciary Committee held a public hearing Feb. 24 on LB 1056, the “Patient Choice at End of Life Act,” introduced by Sen. Ernie Chambers. The bill proposes to allow a physician to prescribe a lethal overdose of medication (called “aid in dying medication”) to “adults” who are “terminally ill,” have the “capacity to make medical decisions” have “voluntarily expressed the wish to receive a prescription for aid-in-dying medication” and have “the physical and mental ability to self-administer” the lethal drugs.

Beginning with its title, this bill is full of euphemisms and provisions that attempt to conceal the practice it actually proposes: physician-assisted (or doctor-prescribed) suicide. In fact, nowhere in the bill will you see the word “suicide” except in the section where it says that “[a]ctions taken in accordance with the… Act shall not, for any purpose, constitute suicide, assisted suicide, mercy killing, homicide, or elder abuse nor constitute the aiding or abetting of such acts.”

The bill even requires persons responsible for completing and signing the death certificates to list the “underlying terminal illness” as the cause of death rather than suicide from a deadly overdose of drugs. Hence, the bill requires falsifying—and concealing—the cause of death.

Sen. Chambers’ asserts that what the bill authorizes is not “physician-assisted” because the bill says no person may assist a person in taking the lethal drugs. This is deception, since the physician does “assist” by prescribing the lethal dose of drugs.

Sen. Chambers says the act is not “suicide” because “[s]uicide is the negation of, or ‘giving up on’ life. The patient, here, is neither negating nor giving up on life but, rather, choosing the manner of his or her inexorable, inevitable, imminent death. Meaningful ‘life,’ both as to quality and duration, is not an option.”

Really? A quick Google search for the plain meaning of the word “suicide” finds the following common definition (from Merriam-Webster): “the act or an instance of taking one’s own life voluntarily and intentionally.”

Senator Chambers also insists that the bill contains many safeguards. For example, he insists that the sole aim of the bill “is to allow a person to choose a manner of dying (when death is certain and imminent) that is peaceful, humane and dignified.” The definition of “terminal illness” in the bill, however, would permit doctors to prescribe death for patients who could live for many years. Furthermore, the bill does nothing to assure that patients do not end up suffering a very unpleasant and prolonged death.

Sen. Chambers also points to a provision in the bill that would penalize anyone who “coerces or exerts undue influence” on a patient to request the lethal prescription. Those words, however, have a very narrow legal meaning. The proposal does not prohibit someone from suggesting, advising, pressuring or encouraging a patient to request doctor-prescribed suicide.

Since victims of domestic abuse, including elder abuse, are extremely vulnerable to persuasion from their abusers, it takes little imagination to understand how abused patients could be persuaded to request doctor-prescribed suicide. Further detailed analysis of the many problems with LB 1056 can be seen at www.necatholic.org (under Public Policy).

In the document “To Live Each Day With Dignity”, the U.S. Bishops assert that “a caring community devotes more attention, not less, to members facing the most vulnerable times in their lives. When people are tempted to see their own lives as diminished in value or meaning, they most need the love and assistance of others to assure them of their inherent worth.”

“People who request death are vulnerable,” the Bishops continue. “They need care and protection. To offer them lethal drugs is a victory not for freedom but for the worst form of neglect. Such abandonment is especially irresponsible when society is increasingly aware of elder abuse and other forms of mistreatment and exploitation of vulnerable persons, such as minorities and the poor.

“By rescinding legal protection for the lives of one group of people, the government implicitly communicates the message that they may be better off dead…If these persons say they want to die, others may be tempted to regard this not as a call for help but as the reasonable response to what they agree is a meaningless life.”

Sadly, Sen. Chambers said that he will devote the remainder of his time as a senator to legalizing doctor-prescribed suicide. Nebraskans who oppose state-sanctioned suicide as “the worst form of neglect” of our vulnerable brothers and sisters must see to it that Sen. Chambers fails in this endeavor.