Catherine Glenn Foster

Some Vermont state lawmakers are pushing to pass S.77, a bill that legalizes “physician-assisted suicide” under the familiar guise of “choice.” Their bill is an attack on human life generally, and especially on elder adults and disabled individuals.

This measure would allow a person “suffering from [a condition his or her] attending physician has determined is a terminal disease” to take his or her life by requesting deadly medication.

Defenders of the bill contend that there is no risk of its misuse because it applies only to a person with a “terminal illness.” Yet we have seen the definition of “terminal illness” expanded “broad enough to include an 18-year-old who is insulin dependent or dependent on kidney dialysis, or a young adult with stable HIV/AIDS. Each of these patients could live for decades with appropriate medical treatment.”

And defenders say that because the bill is only for a person who has the capacity to choose life or death, its provisions will be difficult to abuse.

In saying this, they miss the fact that the person killing himself or herself takes “prescribed medication,” which necessitates the involvement of a second party—a doctor. That opens the door for people, particularly those who depend on others in some way and are most in need of care and protection, to be influenced toward death, whether by an unscrupulous physician or a well-intentioned but coercive family member.

In fact, an October 2012 column in The New York Times explained well that—based on numerous studies of patients with severe and, in many cases, terminal illnesses—the reason for assisted suicide is rarely pain, or even fear of pain. Instead, patients have reported that their reason for killing themselves is “depression, hopelessness and fear of loss of autonomy and control.… In this light, physician-assisted suicide looks less like a good death in the face of unremitting pain and more like plain old suicide.”

Moreover, for people who’ve made up their own minds about dying, this kind of legislation has proven to lead to “physician shopping,” where someone who wants to die goes from doctor to doctor until he or she finds a physician who will prescribe the lethal cocktail of meds.

Catherine Glenn Foster

Catherine Glenn Foster is a litigation counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom.