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Black Americans Rightly Worry Euthanasia Will Target The Vulnerable, Like Them


The Washington DC City Council plans to vote today on legalizing assisted suicide, after postponing the vote in October when the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition urged people to voice their opposition. EPC says the council delayed because they didn’t have the votes to pass the bill.

Even if they pass it, it faces an uphill battle. It would need to be passed two more times, and then Mayor Muriel Bowser must sign it into law. Yet her health director has openly opposed it, saying it violates her Hippocratic Oath. And the bill has come under increasing scrutiny.

Some worry the bill is nothing more than a way to euthanize poor black citizens of Washington DC, a fear outlined in the Washington Post. While several states have legalized assisted suicide, the black population is smaller in those states, and black Americans are much more likely to oppose assisted suicide, much to the consternation of activist organization Compassion and Choices.

“They are afraid that somebody is going to take advantage of them the way they have been taken advantage of in the past,” said Omega Silva. Silva is a black physician who works for Compassion and Choices, which is trying to get the DC legislation passed. But while Compassion and Choices has been trying to reach out to residents of DC’s black neighborhoods, they haven’t been making much impact. At an outreach event last month, for example, only three people showed up.

These Concerns Are Legit

Leona Redmond, a community activist fighting the legislation, fears that poor, elderly black citizens will be targeted for assisted suicide. She notes politicians are more concerned with cutting health-care costs than they are with providing quality end-of-life care. “Because of Jim Crow laws . . . we didn’t have the opportunity to have the same jobs, to have the same insurance, the same retirement benefits,” Redmond said. “It’s really aimed at old black people. It really is.”

According to the Washington Post, only one black person has chosen to undergo assisted suicide in Oregon, one of the first states to legalize it. But the precedent set there, and other states around the country, have taught us that citizens like Redmond are right to be concerned.

Earlier this year, for example, California legalized assisted suicide. California resident Stephanie Packer, a wife and mother to four children, is fighting terminal cancer. Originally, her insurance company agreed to pay for another chemotherapy treatment. Just one week after the assisted suicide legislation was passed, however, Packer received a letter: now, they would not cover her chemotherapy, but they would pay for her assisted suicide, which would cost the insurance company mere dollars.

“It was like someone had just hit me in the gut,” Packer said. “As soon as this law was passed, patients fighting for a longer life end up getting denied treatment, because this will always be the cheapest option… it’s hard to financially fight.”

Packer’s story is told in the documentary “Compassion and Choice DENIED” from The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network. It’s available free of charge:

Pushing Sick People to Kill Themselves

Packer, who leads support groups for people suffering from terminal or chronic illnesses, says she’s already seen a difference since assisted suicide was legalized. Rather than talking about the things they love in their life, or encouraging each other, people became more depressed, she said. She believes part of that is because marketing for assisted suicide devalues the lives of people living with terminal illnesses, while romanticizing suicide.

“It makes terminally ill patients feel ‘less than,’ that they are not worthy of that fight, that they’re not worth it,” Packer argued. But as long as assisted suicide is the cheaper option, then insurance companies and the government will push for it, instead of going for the more expensive, and more difficult, solution. “We can start to fix our broken health-care system, and people will start to live instead of feeling like they have to choose to die,” she said.

Sadly, Packer is hardly alone. In states where assisted suicide is legal, it is all too common for insurance companies to deny life-saving treatment while offering to pay instead for lethal drugs. Aspects of the DC bill are deeply problematic, and can lead to exactly these kind of issues. It specifies the doctor as the one who chooses if the patient is eligible for assisted suicide, rather than the patient. The bill does not require a psychological exam before approving the assisted suicide, meaning that someone suffering from depression or mental illness will not be ruled out.

Most disturbingly, the bill encourages coercing people who are already vulnerable. The heir to the patient’s estate, someone who would financially benefit from the patient’s death, is not only allowed to witness the request for assisted suicide but also allowed to pick up the fatal prescription.

It’s bad enough that someone suffering from a terminal illness could already feel like a burden to his or her loved ones; imagine how much more difficult it would be to fight suicidal feelings when you have a family member who is literally watching you sign your own death warrant and picking up the drugs to make sure you go through with it. Add in the coercion patients face in other states when they are denied payment for treatment of their disease, but assisted suicide is covered, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Compassion Isn’t This Sinister

The assisted suicide lobby has a lot invested in seeing legalization in all 50 states, so has romanticized its cause. Instead of calling it what it is—suicide—it’s referred to as “death with dignity.” Evidently, fighting for your life is undignified. It’s a massive insult to those who do choose to fight for their lives, who choose not to kill themselves.

Maggie Karner, a woman who had to glioblastoma multiforme, the same deadly kind of brain cancer that afflicted widely publicized assisted suicide patient Brittany Maynard, spoke fiercely against assisted suicide and the effect it could have on patients fighting terminal illnesses.

“I get strength and comfort from the knowledge that nobody is going to give up on me — medically, psychologically or holistically. Right now, I have the firm support of the state and my fellow citizens in my desire to live — no matter the cost or burden,” Karner said. “If that were to change, the tiny knowledge that I might be straining my family, friends, doctors or community resources unnecessarily would be a heavy burden. The constant ‘option’ for suicide would wear at my resolve and I fear, become an unspoken ‘duty’ for me and others.”

Karner ultimately succumbed to her disease, with the bravery and dignity assisted suicide advocates would steal from her.

Such laws are promoted as a compassionate way to help people who are dying, but the reality is far more sinister. The company promoting it so heavily, Compassion and Choices, is not some benign organization that just wants the terminally ill to be able to peacefully die by doctor-prescribed medication.

Formerly known as “the Hemlock Society,” Compassion and Choices doesn’t only want the terminally ill to be able to kill themselves. They also want people who are mentally ill, elderly, or disabled to be eligible for assisted suicide. They have published a booklet pushing “VSED”: voluntary stop eating and drinking, for “people who are not seriously ill, but are simply ‘done.’”

It is vital that the DC Council does not allow this bill to pass, and even more importantly, we must stop with this idea that assisted suicide is a dignified way to die. Someone who is terminally ill, disabled, bedridden, elderly, poor, or mentally ill still has a life of value, dignity, and intrinsic worth. That’s what we should be telling people who seek out assisted suicide.

Instead, groups like Compassion and Choices exist like vultures, eager to take money from people when they are at their absolute lowest and most vulnerable, feeding into their darkest thoughts and fears and confirming the suicidal thoughts running through their minds. Assisted suicide may be easier than improving how the health-care system handles end-of-life care, but that doesn’t make it the right thing to do.