As the suicide lobby broadens its efforts, 2015 is likely to be the first year of widespread euthanasia fights in the U.S. Bills to legalize physician-assisted suicide already have been introduced in 15 state legislatures.
The first doctor-assisted suicide bill came up for a vote in Colorado, where it was defeated, 8-5, on Feb. 6. It was sponsored by Compassion & Choices, an advocacy group that started its “life” as the Hemlock Society.
Powerful testimony against the assisted suicide bill was given by Anita Cameron, who described herself as a black Latina “with multiple disabilities, two of which are degenerative, and one which will take my life.” She spoke for Not Dead Yet and ADAPT, two national disability rights organizations.
“This assisted suicide bill is discriminatory,” Cameron emphasized, “because certain people with certain disabilities and illnesses will get suicide prevention, while others will be ‘encouraged’, or even coerced to kill themselves.”
Cameron continued “Contrary to popular belief, fear of pain is not the main reason that terminally ill people want to die.
“Oregon doctors say the main reasons they’ve been issuing prescriptions for lethal drugs are loss of autonomy (89.9%), less able to engage in activities (87.4%), loss of dignity (83.8%), loss of control of bodily functions (58.7%) and feelings of being a burden (38.3%). These are all disability related issues and concerns.”
Cameron went on to recall that in 2009 “my mother was determined to be in the final stages of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and placed in hospice.” Cameron said her mother is still alive today and reasonably functional.
But California certainly would be the biggest prize euthanasia its advocates will try to claim, due both to its size and its reputation as a trend-setter.
In Sacramento SB 128 is being promoted by a mix of self-declared public interest groups, intent on giving doctors the power to assist in suicide. Its first hearing is scheduled for March 25.
California’s Catholic bishops have taken a strong stand against legalizing assisted suicide, along with the US Catholic Conference of Bishops and bishops in other states where the issue has arisen.
The euthanasia campaign is rapidly growing, and receiving positive and promotional coverage in much of the news media coverage.
To date only three states have enacted laws empowering doctors to give people suicide medicine--Oregon in 1997, Washington state in 2009, and Vermont in 2013.
In two other states courts have opened the door to euthanasia. Montana’s Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that doctors can prescribe life-ending drugs. In 2014 a New Mexico district judge ruled that people have a right to aid in dying.
Across the country the decade-long campaign to legalize suicide has largely been rejected before this year.
Notable was a 2012 Massachusetts ballot measure. It would have allowed a doctor to prescribe a lethal drug for a person deemed to have less than six months to live.
Polls early in the debate, when suicide advocates were the center of attention, found a lopsided 2:1 support for legalizing assisted suicide.
Then the opposition coalesced. With strong support from the medical community and Catholic leaders an energetic independent campaign was mounted against Ballot Measure 2. Catholic interests were vocal, strongly opposed to the measure. They worked with disability activists to fight the measure.
The result was a 51-49 defeat for doctor-assisted suicide, a remarkable swing in public sentiment from the 2:1 poll finding just a few months earlier.
The result in Massachusetts reflects the increased knowledge and understanding of the issue that arises from debate.
Massachusetts was not the first state to reject assisted suicide.
Maine voters defeated an assisted suicide measure in 2000.
In Michigan voters rejected euthanasia in 1998. That was notable because Michigan was the home of a man widely known as Doctor Death. Dr. Jack Kevorkian carried on a much publicized doctor-assisted suicide effort in the 1980s and 1990s.
In California the people resoundingly rejected euthanasia in 1992, turnied down Prop. 161 by nearly 900,000 votes.
Leading the “no on euthanasia” effort were the presidents of the California Nurses Association and the California State Hospice Association.
A strong voice in the “no on euthanasia” campaign was Ed Roberts, a pioneering Bay Area disabilities rights activist. Roberts had only use of two fingers and often slept in an iron lung. He came to prominence in 1976 when then-Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Roberts as the Director of the state Department of Vocational Rehabilitation.