Friday, November 04, 2005

But It All Sounds So Sensible

Let's be perfectly clear. Kathleen Lundquist is not exaggerating when she describes abuses of "assisted suicide". I know this 1.) because I lived in Oregon for nearly 3 years, and 2.) I know somebody who tried to kill his father.

"John" was dating my roommate "Jane"*. One day Jane picked me up from the airport and on the way home, after I told her about my trip to New York, explained that she had had an exhausting week. John's father had had a stroke, she said. He was in the hospital, unconscious. The man's children were pressuring their mother to pull the plug. As Jane put it, the kids thought they were doing the old man a favor. For many years he had expressed his fear of death thusly:"If I ever get so that I can't feed or clean myself, shoot me." The father kept a shotgun under his bed and referred to it when he instructed the children over and over to kill him should he become helpless.

John and his siblings did not get their way because the father regained consciousness. Unable to speak or move one side of his body, John's dad was forced to defend his own life after being told by hospital personnel that unless he could indicate otherwise, the family was going to act on his earlier stated wishes to be put to death.

I have had three near-death experiences: Two severe bouts of pneumonia and one bad accident that resulted in numerous bone fractures. I also nearly drowned a few times. I can't imagine in the midst of these having to also defend my life against a bureaucracy, not to mention my own children.

Somehow, John's father managed to indicate to the bureaucrats that yes, he wanted to live. And, this is the part that spooked Jane the most, John was actually disappointed he didn't get to kill his dad.

"All week [John] kept calling me apologizing for not being around and saying he'd see me 'Once we kill him'. He seemed to be almost looking forward to it. Then when his mom said that she would not pull the plug, [John] seemed almost angry," Jane told me. She decided to break up with John.

As for John's father, he never left the hospital. Seeing that everybody around him but for his poor wife wanted to hasten his death, John's dad did them all a favor and died.

Before meeting John, Jane was unabashedly pro-assisted suicide. (She harbored doubts after her experience with John, but never quite came around to opposing the law.) Jane's support of assisted suicide was shared with just about every other Oregonian I knew. Except for John, whom I never liked, these were kind-hearted pragmatic people who saw assisted suicide as a way to ease suffering and to allow individual autonomy. Oregonians think there is such a thing as radical individualism. You just can't reason with them.

One guy I dated in Portland decided I was a religious fundamentalist kook because I was against assisted suicide. He accused me of being cynical when I told him that Oregon's system was designed for abuse. He kept telling me about "safeguards". As Lundquist puts it:

"By now, you’ve all heard of the DWDA and its sensible-sounding requirements: a terminal illness, six months to live, three requests (one in writing), a second concurring medical opinion, self-administration of the drug overdose, no lethal injections. Over the past seven years that Oregon’s DWDA has been in effect, every single one of these walls against abuse has been breached." [emphasis hers]

Lundquist goes on to describe case after case of abuse of the tenets of Oregon's assisted suicide law. If you don't live in Oregon, you may wonder why these cases are not being publicized. They are. There is no outrage because the people of Oregon refuse to hear. Why is this? Lundquist explains:

"In his famous sermon, John Donne said, “No man is an island”; supporters of assisted suicide seem firmly to believe the opposite. They regard any need for others to care for them as the greatest horror, the greatest cause of suffering, to be avoided at any cost. This raises the question: Can this sort of “suffering” really be avoided? Does such a radically self-reliant attitude actually improve our society, or does it in fact diminish us as a human community?"

Appealing to the Oregonian sense of social justice, I argued that assisted suicide would cause more suffering; that it would be only a matter of time before HMOs began "incentivizing" suicide. These compassionate rugged individualists nearly always responded the same way: They looked at me like I had just grown two heads and said that this would never happen. Oh no? In 2002, National Review Online reported that Kaiser Permanente (the HMO whose slogan, ironically, is "Thrive") emailed 800 physicians seeking volunteers to assist in patient suicides.

There is nothing compassionate about Oregon's assisted suicide law. We know that since assisted suicide became legal, more and more people are dying under from that which should be called by its true name: Murder. Moreover, there's no compassion in telling sick and disabled people that their state is such that the law recognizes they should not want to live.

As Lundquist puts it:

"Disability rights groups (such as the one cheerily named Not Dead Yet) boldly carry the banner against assisted suicide, and this is the reason: They deal every day with personal issues of loss of autonomy, loss of control of bodily functions, loss of former physical or mental abilities, and many others. And yet, they insist that their lives are worth living. They insist that they are dignified human beings. Every time someone sounds off using the media’s megaphone with some version of “I wouldn’t want to live in that state,” it’s as if that person had walked up to a wheelchair-bound or mentally ill person on the street and said right to his or her face, “You know, don’t you think you'd be better off dead?” This is compassion?"

*Names changed to protect the guilty.