Washington, D.C. - Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH), Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-LA), and a coalition of disability and patients’ rights advocates announced a bipartisan resolution on Capitol Hill Wednesday which states that “assisted suicide (sometimes referred to as death with dignity, end-of-life options, aid-in-dying, or similar phrases) puts everyone, including those most vulnerable, at risk of deadly harm and undermines the integrity of the health care system.”
As a doctor who advised his terminally ill sister on care options, this issue is personal for Rep. Wenstrup.
His sister was diagnosed with two forms of leukemia 23 years ago and Wenstrup was a match for a bone marrow transplant she needed to survive.
He said the doctors told them to go to Seattle for the treatment but “her insurance company said no, it’s experimental, this is experimental and we’re not going to cover it. We got a lawyer.”
“They wanted us to go to Cleveland but their success rate wasn’t as high so we fought that and they ended up paying for part of it and we were able to go out there and get her taken care of,” he said.
“She had a terminal disease," he emphasized. "She would have died within a certain period of time if not for the action taken and we had to fight for that. Twenty-three years later she is alive, she is married, she has two children.”
“As a doctor, we know that too often payers of care often seek to go the cheap route or the least expensive route. In the short term you see that all the time with prescriptions,” he said. “It often comes down to cost versus compassion, cost versus care.”
He cited statistics, also mentioned in the resolution, indicating that most people who are seeking physician assisted suicide have depression.
“When governments support, encourage, or facilitate suicide whether assisted by phycisians or otherwise,” Wenstrup warned, “we devalue our own citizens, our fellow human beings. I don’t believe that’s who we should be.”
Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-LA), also a doctor, reminded the audience that, as physicians, “we are merely mortal not God and we should not have that ability to determine when someone should die.”
J.J. Hanson, a former Marine with terminal brain cancer and the president of the Patients Rights Action Fund, was present to explain his opposition to assisted suicide. His wife read his speech as he had recently suffered seizures that affected his ability to speak.
He said that three and a half years ago he “had not only one but three different doctors tell me that there was nothing they could do. I was told I should go home and enjoy the time I had left with my family. I am so thankful I did not listen to those doctors. I did not accept their prognosis clearly it was incorrect.”
“Sadly, however, too many patients might have listened and given up hope,” he said. “The last three years have not been easy. I’ve had countless seizures and there’ve been days where I couldn’t walk, talk, read, or write. If assisted suicide was legal in New York when I was diagnosed and told I was terminal…I could’ve had those suicide pills on my night stand. I would’ve had them with me as I laid in bed in month five and I questioned if life was worth living as I wondered am I too much of a burden to my family and wondered is ending my life easier than this?”
“I would’ve missed out on so much, my wife would be without a husband,” he said, “my four-year-old son would be without a father and my newborn son would not be here. So I’ve seen firsthand the dangers of assisted suicide…I’m here to point out the dangers when suicide becomes a social norm for the terminally ill. It puts the lives of those who are most vulnerable at risk.”
The event, featuring speeches by disability rights advocates and leaders, suffered a minor disruption when a protestor interrupted Rep. Wenstrup’s speech to scream “f*ck you” at him for voting to repeal Obamacare. He ultimately left the room and was promised time to meet privately with Wenstrup.
Rep. Wenstrup along with Matt Valliere with the Patients Rights Action Fund condemned the inappropriateness of taking time away from terminally ill and disabled people to bring up that issue. Valliere pointed out that, as the assisted suicide resolution was bipartisan and unrelated to the Affordable Care Act, “there are people in this room who have been arrested, have weathered storms, have traveled miles to show their support for the ACA. There are people right here who have those same concerns and who support the ACA.”
This resolution comes just two weeks after Congress voted in an appropriations bill to strike down D.C.’s assisted suicide law.
California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, have all legalized assisted suicide. The D.C. law allows terminally ill patients, with less than six months to live, to request lethal prescriptions from their doctors.