Physician-assisted suicide (PAS) failed by a single vote recently to move forward in the Nevada Legislature as PAS advocates press their legalization campaign across the country. When the Nevada Legislature adjourned last week, the measure also expired.
Courageous testimony from a California mother, Stephanie Packer, helped impact the debate in Nevada. Packer is a 34-year-old Orange County mother of four, diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in 2012 and at that point told she had three years to live.
A few days after California’s legal assisted suicide law went into effect a year ago Packer’s medical insurance company told her they would not pay for her recommended chemotherapy treatment, but would pay for an inexpensive life-ending drug!
Her testimony was backed up by the former head of the Nevada State Medical Association.
"The truth is that this is bad policy—it hurts patients, it hurts families, and it limits choice and access to care," Dr. Brian Callister warned the Nevada Legislature. "It needs to be vigorously opposed at every opportunity."
Callister recounted in testimony how two of his patients, one each in California and Oregon, were denied expensive therapies developed to fight their illnesses. But their insurance companies did offer to pay for life-ending drugs.
“It’s a lot cheaper to grab a couple drugs and kill you than it is to provide you life sustaining therapy,” Callister said. “It is as simple as that!”
In New York state, Dr. Harvey Berman, a medical ethics professor at the New York State University at Buffalo, pointed out that doctor-assisted suicide has increased eight-fold in Oregon since it was established 20 years ago.
“Such growth in assisted suicide prompts a related concern of ‘suicide contagion,’ the idea that assistance with death comes to be seen as a medically ordinary and routine therapeutic option,” Dr. Berman wrote.
“Over the past 30 years, since it was legalized in the Netherlands and Belgium, euthanasia has devolved from assisted death only for the terminally ill to include those who are chronically ill, from those with physical illness to those with psychological illness, from adults to children, and ultimately to those who are simply ‘tired of living.’
“The bizarre notion of a right to die – a right that everyone will eventually exercise – will be seen by tired, confused and pressured patients as a ‘duty to die,’” Berman warned.
In Orange County, the Catholic community stepped in to help the Packer family as they can. Packer’s husband is her primary caregiver assisted by her four children, ages 7 to 13, so he cannot hold down a typical weekday job. But he works on weekends at Holy Family Cathedral in the city of Orange. Volunteers from Stephen Packer’s Knights of Columbus Council also help the family in other ways, including occasional food gifts and free life insurance for Stephanie and her husband.
While Nevada Legislature narrowly rejected doctor-assisted suicide, neighboring Oregon is moving toward allowing non-compos (latin: a person of unsound mind) persons to be put to death without their assent. The bill would enable another person to administer death drugs to a person who had previously signed an assisted suicide form but now is unable to ask for the death-inducing medications, which typically would occur when a person is unconscious or suffers dementia.
In the near future California is due to issue a report on the first year activities under the California assisted suicide law that went into effect June 9, 2016.