“The state has an interest in protecting the poor, the elderly, and disabled persons. The lives of disabled and elderly must be no less valuable than the lives of young and healthy … The difficulty in defining terminal illness and the risk that a dying patient’s request for assistance in ending his or her life might not be truly voluntary justifies the prohibitions on assisted suicide we uphold here.” —Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Vacco v. Quill, Washington v. Glucksberg, 1997
In April, New Jersey became the 8th state to legalize assisted suicide with its “Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill” Act.
New York may be next.
On a radio program in April Governor Andrew Cuomo spoke in support of New York’s proposed “Medical Aid in Dying” Act, which was re-introduced in the state legislature in January soon after his inauguration (it failed to pass in 2017 and 2018).
Polls show that a majority of New Yorkers support aid in dying. That’s worrisome. Yes, it’s natural to fear intense suffering, and to want control over one’s life. But what we ought to fear is giving doctors — or the state, or anyone! — the legal power to kill us.
These assisted suicide laws, as with abortion “reform” in the early days, are touted as only for the rare, tragic cases, which will be policed by stringent safeguards. We are assured that only the physician-certified terminally ill (with six months or less to live) would be prescribed the drugs, and factors like depression or undue pressure from family or doctors would be ruled out.
This assumes that doctors are always ethical (and correct in diagnoses); that families are always loving and would never have motivations for hurrying someone off the planet, and that insurance companies and health plans would never be tempted to deny care based on the fact that assisted suicide pills are much cheaper than life-sustaining medical treatments.
Opponents of assisted suicide bills enumerate the ways such safeguards are unreliable, and point to healthcare rationing as a rationale for promoting assisted suicide. Governor Cuomo’s radio comments inadvertently, I think, revealed this.
He said the law was necessary because, “The older we get and the better medicine gets, the more we’ve seen people suffer for too, too long.” But the first part of the sentence doesn’t necessarily match the second. We are living longer and healthier lives; medicine keeps improving, including pain control. Many of us have reason to believe we will live longer, more pain-free and productive lives than ever before. But there is a catch: all this care we need is expensive, especially with healthcare and pharmaceutical prices. Again, it is much less expensive for insurance plans to fund a prescription of lethal pills than to pay for powerful treatments for cancer or other diseases.
Major disability rights groups see lethal danger in assisted suicide laws, seeing that, “Some people fear disability as a fate worse than death.” Terminal illness will involve disabilities, which become the reason for the “loss of dignity” and desire for suicide. The group Not Dead Yet reports that while “intractable pain has been emphasized as the primary reason” for assisted suicide laws, it’s not in the top five reasons reported in Oregon (where assisted suicide has been legal since 1997); they include “loss of autonomy,” and “loss of control of bodily functions,” things the disabled live with every day.
Finally, at a time when the U.S. suicide rate is rapidly and alarmingly rising, how can we on the one hand work passionately to prevent suicides, while at the same time promoting the choice as a “right”?
Ironically, just a couple of weeks after Cuomo’s comments supporting the aid-in-dying law, his press office released the first suicide prevention report from the task force he created in 2017: “Communities United for a Suicide-Free New York.”
The lengthy document outlines initiatives for suicide prevention, especially in the high-risk populations of veterans, Latina youth and the LGBTQ community. Howard Zucker, M.D., Commissioner of the NYS Department of Health, said, "Suicide is a tragedy with devastating effects on individuals, families and communities, which is why Governor Cuomo set up a task force to find ways to prevent it from happening.”
Suicide is tragic and awful — unless you get a doctor to prescribe poison, in which case it becomes a right necessary for “progressive” society? And, chillingly, when does the “right to die” become the “duty to die,” and then coerced death? In Belgium, the slippery slope has led to euthanasia for children, and death has become the default medical treatment for a host of non-terminal illnesses, including depression. Is this what we want here?
Maria McFadden Maffucci is the editor of the Human Life Review, www.humanlifereview.com, a quarterly journal devoted to the defense of human life, founded in 1974 by her father, James P. McFadden, Associate Publisher of National Review. She is President of the Human Life Foundation, based in midtown Manhattan, which publishes the Review and supports pregnancy resource centers. Mrs. Maffucci’s articles and editorials have appeared in the Human Life Review, First Things, National Review Online, National Review, Verily, and Crux. A Holy Cross graduate with a BA in Philosophy, she is married to Robert E. Maffucci, and the mother of three children. Her interests include exploring opportunities for individuals with special needs. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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