an excerpt from testimony before senate judiciary committee – In considering the cultural impact legalizing assisted suicide could have on our society, let us first explore the dysfunctional context of health care in California in which assisted suicides would be carried out. Arguments in favor of assisted suicide almost always depict the act as occurring in an idealized world that does not exist. We are told to presume that decisions to commit assisted suicide would take place in the bosoms of loving families, that suicides would be facilitated by family doctors who have known the patient for decades and are intimately familiar with their values, and that assisted suicide would only be used as a last resort engaged in with great reluctance when nothing else could be done to alleviate unbearable pain.
But this “euthanasia world,” as I call it, doesn’t exist. There are 7.5 million people without health insurance in this state-more than the entire population of Oregon-which means almost by definition that they may not have access to quality medical treatment and proper care. The economics of health care are increasingly driven by the HMO in which profits are made by cutting costs, a system which many in this legislature have complained bitterly has resulted in the chipping away of quality care. Some doctors are so stressed by the current system that patients may have a mere 15 minutes or less within which to interact with their doctors.
The cost for the drugs used in assisted suicide is about $50. It could take $500,000 to provide the patient with proper care so they don’t want assisted suicide. Should assisted suicide become legalized and legitimized, the economic force of gravity is obvious. After all, what could be a “cheaper” medical treatment than hastened death?
Perhaps that is why you don’t see poor people demonstrating in the streets or demanding the right to assisted suicide: They are worried about receiving adequate care! Indeed, the terrible problem of poorer Californians obtaining fair access to medical treatment is one reason why LULAC, the largest Latino civil rights organization in the United States, has come out unequivocally in opposition to legalizing assisted suicide.
Meanwhile, many of our families are under increasing strain. Debt is at an all time high, and elder abuse is rampant. The temptation that would be posed by inheritance and life insurance when families pondered whether to support a family member’s request for assisted suicide is obvious. And think about now the despair caused by the all too frequent neglect of our seniors and disabled people-too many of whom languish abandoned in nursing homes and other care facilities-could affect a decision to seek a poison prescription when deciding whether to support the legalization of hastened death.
Assisted suicide would be wrong even under the most ideal conditions. But in light of these stark realities, and considering the frayed safety net in California, legalizing assisted suicide in our state could have catastrophic consequences for the weak, vulnerable, depressed, and unwanted.
Eventually, assisted suicide could come to be seen as a splendid way to save scarce medical resources. Indeed, one of the world’s most prominent assisted suicide proponents, Derek Humphry, the founder of the Hemlock Society (now, called Compassion and Choices), acknowledged this concern when he stated in his most recent book, Freedom to Die:
A rational argument can be made for allowing PAS [physician-assisted suicide] in order to offset the amount society and family spend on the ill, as long as it is the voluntary wish of the mentally competent terminally and incurably ill adult. There will likely come a time when PAS becomes a commonplace occurrence for individuals who want to die and feel it is the right thing to do by their loved ones. There is no contradicting the fact that since the largest medical expenses are incurred in the final days and weeks of life, the hastened demise of people with only a short time left would free resources for others. Hundreds of billions of dollars could benefit those patients who not only can be cured but who want to live. (Emphasis in the text.)
Once this crass attitude seeped deeply into the culture, its stark utilitarian values could easily breach the levy of Hippocratic values and adversely impact normal health care decision making, further threatening the welfare of the elderly, disabled, and dying
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