Physician Assisted Suicide: Yad HaChazakah Testifies Against NYS Bills

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Thursday, August 16, 2018

Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) is the act of killing one’s self with the assistance of a doctor and other medical professionals. It’s a response to the pain, suffering, or reduced functional capacities endured by people who are “terminally ill”, medically determined to have no more than a 6-month life expectancy. In America, eight states have legalized PAS. They are California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.

A significant segment of the disability community is against physician assisted suicide legislation, notwithstanding the Jewish value of life itself and the complex halachic considerations that are involved in determining answers to end-of-life questions. We are opposed to doctors giving the green light for suicide based upon their ableist assumptions of what constitutes “quality of life” and upon their estimation of the end of a person’s life.

According to Not Dead Yet, “Although intractable pain has been emphasized as the primary reason for enacting assisted suicide laws, the top five reasons Oregon doctors actually report for issuing lethal prescriptions are the “loss of autonomy” (91%), “less able to engage in activities” (89%), “loss of dignity” (81%), “loss of control of bodily functions” (50%) and “feelings of being a burden” (40%). (Death With Dignity Act Annual Reports)”  All of these top five reasons relate to fear of becoming increasingly disabled, not to fear of relentless pain and discomfort.  Being fully functioning and self-reliant is associated with human dignity.  Despite the many quadriplegic men and women, including those on mobile respirators, who live significant and fulfilling lives, disability is associated with loss of dignity and control, and a life not worth living.  Human doctors and mental health professionals are subject to the same notions and fears about disability.  By enacting assisted suicide policies, we are placing decisions regarding expedited death into doctors’ hands.

New York State is considering  the adoption of “medical aid in dying” legislation. This year the NYS Senate introduced S3151 (Savino) and the Assembly introduced A2383 (Paulin).  Sharon Shapiro-Lacks, Yad HaChazakah’s executive director, testified on Thursday, May 3, 2018 against the proposed bills.  You may click here to read the PDF file of her testimony or read it below in this post.

NYS Assembly Hearing – May 3, 2018

Medical Aid in Dying Bill # A02383A

The “Medical Aid in Dying” bill, if passed into law, will bestow power to physicians and the medical establishment to use their understanding of “quality of life” in order to determine who among those deemed “terminally ill” have good reason to end their lives.

We at Yad HaChazakah-The Jewish Disability Empowerment Center proclaim that doctors and mental health professionals, who are members of the broader society, are too tainted by centuries old fears of disability in order to determine who is rational and who has good reason to die.

We oppose giving the medical establishment, with the input of mental health professionals, the ability to prescribe life-ending drugs months or weeks before one’s projected time of natural death.  Their evaluations will be based upon their predominant ableist attitudes about what constitutes “quality of life”.  We are opposed to giving insurance companies, Medicare, and Medicaid a convenient way to save on health care and hospice costs. If this bill is passed into law, disabled folks and seniors living on fixed incomes who are sentenced with 6 months or less to live will too easily be granted deadly doses.

People with disabilities can lead happy and productive lives using wheelchairs, ventilators, and personal care assistance.  However, it is generally erroneously assumed that once someone loses bodily functions, life is no longer worth living.  People with disabilities experience this prejudice every day. We are frequently told in many ways, “You’re amazing; I could never live like that.”

Medical providers are subject to the same prejudicial assumption about disability and are likely to agree to help a terminally ill person, who they deem “rational”, to kill themselves weeks or months before the predicted time-frame of death due to a diagnosed terminal condition.  In the end, the medical establishment, insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid will be the ultimate gatekeepers over who lives or dies based upon their attitudes towards becoming disabled and concerns for cost.

An estimated time of death that spans months or even weeks is a red herring and can be very inaccurate.  We need to handle the real issues – relieving pain and discomfort; adjusting to changes in appearance and function; addressing fear of being a burden to others; relieving stress on families; and helping one to decide how to live out one’s remaining time.   Stephen Hawking is a shining example of someone who was given a 2-year medical death sentence, and who, with the right support, technology, and medical attention, defied medical predictions, lived until age 76 and left a scientific legacy for generations to come.

With the proper provision of pain and discomfort relief, medication or procedures, long term care options, hospice care, living and mobility aids, lifestyle adjustments, activities, counseling, and family respite care, we can help people to live meaningful lives until the final hours. We need to work on advocating for and securing these supports; not place death as a medical tool into doctors’ hands.

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