Assisted suicide laws

No dignity for the disabled

The escalating costs of medical care can have devastating effects on families faced with the financial burden of paying for treatment. Even with medical insurance, Americans are often forced to make difficult decisions about treatment options, medication choices and indebtedness.

Now consider the challenges people with disabilities and their families face when medical situations arise.

This scenario was one of the issues addressed in a report released Oct. 9 by the National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent federal agency of the U.S. government based in Washington D.C.

Titled, “The Danger of Assisted Suicide Laws,” the study warns that the growing acceptance of assisted suicide can rationalize “death with dignity” as just another medical option.

“The Oregon model (of assisted suicide) assumes that if an eligible patient doesn’t want assisted suicide, they can receive medical treatment,” states the NCD report. “But there is evidence that patients, including people with disabilities, are being denied treatment by insurers and offered assisted suicide instead.”

The report adds: “When assisted suicide is legalized in the context of the U.S. health care system, it immediately becomes the cheapest treatment. Direct coercion is not necessary.”

According to the NCD, eight states and the District of Columbia have assisted suicide, allowing doctors to prescribe legal drugs to patients diagnosed with terminal illness. They are: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. The New York Legislature will also consider an assisted suicide law next January.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a joint statement released Oct. 15 by the pro-life and domestic policy committees, said the report raised questions about “abuse, coercion and discrimination posed by assisted suicide laws, specifically for people with disabilities.”

The acceptance of assisted suicide can separate people into two groups, said the bishops. “Those whose lives we want to protect and those whose deaths we encourage. This is completely unjust and seriously undermines equal protection under the law.”

The NCD’s report urged Congress to pass a resolution “to express the Sense of the Congress (a way for members of Congress to go on the record as supporting or opposing a policy) that assisted suicide puts everyone, particularly people with disabilities, at risk of deadly harm.”

It also urged Congress to expand health care programs and long-term services and supports for people with disabilities.

As legalized physician-assisted suicide gains acceptance, it leaves many moral questions unanswered. How it impacts people with disabilities is one that should raise our concerns.

Financial costs are indeed a reality of life when it comes to medical care. However, when families blur the lines between disabilities and suffering, they may view assisted suicide as a viable or necessary alternative.

As people of faith, our role is to promote the dignity of life ahead of convenience. That means urging lawmakers to invest in long-term services and support for people with disabilities and go on record opposing assisted suicide as a “medical treatment.”

It also means offering prayers, love and support to our brothers and sisters living with disabilities, letting them know that their lives are sacred.