Proponents of Proposed Assisted Suicide Bill Perpetuate Myths

Friday, Jul. 29, 2016
By Jean Hill
Director, Diocese of Salt Lake City Peace and Justice Commission
Assisted suicide continues to be discussed at the Utah legislature. Although the proposed legislation failed to pass during the last two sessions, on July 13 a legislative committee again discussed the matter. During that hearing proponents perpetuated at least three ongoing practical myths Catholics should be prepared to counter as we continue our advocacy against such a law:
Myth 1: It’s not suicide.  
Proponents offered two explanations to support their claim that taking one’s life is not suicide if you are terminally ill.  The first was the very circular argument that the law, if passed, would state that taking the doctor-prescribed lethal dose is not suicide. In essence, proponents are saying that because they’re not calling the act suicide, then it’s not. Nevertheless, even if the proposed bill passes, the new law will still recognize it is creating a legal fiction by requiring that the death certificate indicate the person died from the underlying illness, not the consumption of a lethal dosage of prescription medication.
The more disturbing argument against calling this bill assisted suicide centered on an ill-advised analogy comparing the person who commits assisted suicide to a war hero who jumps on a grenade to protect others, while a person who commits suicide for reasons unrelated to a terminal illness is an ignoble actor. This argument proclaims that those who commit suicide want to die, while those who commit assisted suicide do not, but are being forced to do so by their illness.  
The argument perpetuates common misperceptions about people who suffer from suicidal thoughts. Most do not want to die. Rather, they simply see – rationally or not – no other way out of their situations and pain. Proponents’ portrayal of one group of suicides as heroes and the other as deserving of disdain does nothing more than foster painful prejudices that label people with mental illnesses as lesser human beings who just need to “shake it off.”
Myth 2: Nothing bad related to assisted suicide ever happens in states and countries where it is legal. 
 The proponents cited studies from Oregon they claimed showed that no person has ever been coerced into taking the lethal prescriptions and no one has ever suffered a less than peaceful death from the pills. Both of these arguments overlook the fact that assisted suicide laws make it impossible to determine if either of these type of events occurred.  
Per the Oregon law, and the proposed Utah bill, once the doctor hands over a lethal prescription, no unbiased, unrelated person is required to follow up or attend the actual death to ensure there is no coercion or bad reactions to the drugs. There is no data to suggest a person has been coerced because, by law, no such data is collected. Newspaper stories of coercion and bad reactions to the drugs do exist, but the state health departments are not authorized to follow up on these reports.
Myth 3: “Safeguards” in the law will protect patients from taking the lethal dose if they are suffering from depression in addition to a terminal illness.
Proponents insist that people suffering from depression will not undertake assisted suicide because the treating physician is permitted to refer the patient for a psychiatric evaluation. Again, many relevant facts are omitted from this explanation.
First, the doctor-patient relationship may be no more than two weeks long. As any competent psychiatrist would insist, knowing if a patient is suffering from depression takes a long-term relationship, and specific training, not a glance at them as they request a lethal prescription. 
Second, the referral for a psychiatric evaluation is solely at the prescribing doctor’s discretion. There is no requirement that an evaluation be performed before a deadly dosage is prescribed. 
Of the 178 patients who sought assisted suicide in Oregon in 2013-2014, only five received a referral for psychiatric evaluation. This despite studies showing that 25 percent to 77 percent of patients with a terminal diagnosis suffer from severe depression.
While the Utah legislative committee may take no action on the issue at this time, another version of an assisted suicide bill is expected to be released during the 2017 legislative session. For information visit http://www.dioslc.org/ministries/governmentliaison/assisted-suicide-and-the. 
Many thanks to those who have already raised their voices against the proposal and continue to do so, and I would like to see many more join in. Assisted suicide flies in the face of the Catholic Church’s teaching of the sanctity of life from birth to natural death. Our legislators should know that we, their Catholic constituents, oppose this proposed law.
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