Proponents and opponents in the Question 2 (so-called physician-assisted suicide) campaign are so divided on the issue that they cannot even agree on what to call it.
For those against the question, they refer to it as Physician-Assisted Suicide.
For those in agreement with the question, they call it Death with Dignity.
And therein lies the beginning of a very differing effort from either side, an effort that essentially will come down to the will of the voters in this coming Tuesday’s election (Nov. 6th).
“The opponents like to distort this and call it physician assisted suicide,” said Death with Dignity spokesman Stephen Crawford. “We call it Death with Dignity for good reason. Suicide is when a person has a choice between life and death and chooses death because they are depressed or some reason like that. In our case, death is imminent. There is no choice. The question is how much suffering our government is going to require this dying person to endure. We think that is the choice of the person and not the government or the doctor.”
Yet, on the other side, in opposition, have lined up numerous medical professionals, major newspaper editorial boards, a number of people in the disabled and handicapped community (including a large number of those with ALS), and the elderly.
“This law is based on people who have six months or less to live,” said John Kelly, a man confined to a wheelchair with a spinal cord injury and the director of Second Thoughts: People with Disabilities Opposing Question 2. “What the bill would do is authorize doctors to write prescriptions for people who are diagnosed with six months or less to live – a prescription for 100 capsules of a very strong Barbiturate. The problem is doctors can’t tell exactly how long you have to live. If my doctor had let me do this, I’d be dead and here I am living with a high quality of life despite my disability. For me, that’s enough to say no to this question. As a disabled person, it’s scary to see people proposing a law where people will want to kill themselves to avoid the life I lead.
Also, how is it a free choice if you’ve been misdiagnosed – when you’ve been told you only have a short time to live and you have years ahead of you?” he continued.
The particulars of the question are that a diagnosed, terminally-ill patient can ask their doctor for a prescription of a strong Barbiturate that will put them to sleep forever. They must ask their doctor three separate times, and must be certified as mentally competent. No doctor or medical professional is required to attend the death, but there must be two witnesses.
Similar laws have been on the books for a number of years in Oregon and Washington.
“We’re a grass-roots organization where a majority of us have had loved ones or family members suffering through a prolonged death,” said Crawford. “These people want to prevent everyone else from unnecessary suffering going forward with greater control for end of life choices for the terminally ill…Miracles do happen, yes, but where this law has existed in other states, it has been used by people where it’s not a question of life or death. A vast majority in those states are people in their final days. They know death is imminent and want to have the choice of how to die and how much suffering they should endure.”
Opponents, however, have countered that the specific bill being touted by the ballot question is poorly written, and that no one really knows when people are ‘terminal.’
Kelly indicated that one major problem is the potential for abuse – especially for the elderly. He pointed out that one of the witnesses to the death can be an heir in the dying person’s will.
“We don’t know what kind of abuse has gone on in the states where this is already law,” he said. “The problem is they don’t gather the reports. We don’t know what actually happened in 80 percent of the deaths in Oregon. If they don’t see any abuse, then they say there is no abuse. But, the problem is no one is looking for abuse. This is a sloppily crafted law with really dangerous effects. Unfortunately, people are so desperate for peace of mind, but we need to improve the health care we have and increase our supports before we start offering death as a medicine.”
Question 2 will be offered on the Nov. 6th ballot and will require a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote. A ‘Yes’ vote will approve of allowing doctors to assist with patients ending their life and a ‘no’ vote will reject that idea.
John Kelly – who is confined to a wheelchair due to a spinal cord injury – is heading up the anti-Question 2 campaign called Second Thoughts: Disabled People Opposed to Question 2.