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True Dignity Vermont is a grassroots, independent, citizen-led initiative in opposition to assisted suicide in Vermont. Vermonters deserve true dignity and compassion at the end of life, not the abandonment of assisted suicide. Killing is not compassion, and True Dignity Vermont will work to ensure our end-of-life choices respect the dignity of all Vermont citizens.

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Health April 2015

As They Lay Dying

Two doctors say it’s far too hard for terminal patients to donate their organs.

Thanks to Alex Schadenberg and Wesley Smith for pointing out an article in the Atlantic advocating a “right” for patients to decline “futile” medical treatment and allow doctors to remove their organs while they are alive, under general anesthesia, in an operating room.  The organs would be in good shape, having come from a living donor.  The patient would be rendered dead.

Can anybody possibly think assisted suicide is “safe”? How free will a very sick patient be who has this idea “suggested” to him with the same lack of finesse shown by the doctor who repeatedly “suggested” to the companion of one of our readers that he sign an unwanted Do Not Resuscitate Order (http://www.truedignityvt.org/this-is-the-horrifying-medical-culture-into-which-the-vermont-legislature-has-injected-assisted-suicide/)?

This also makes us wonder why the state of Utah says it is going to execute people by firing squad if lethal injection drugs are unavailable.  Why not execute them by surgery to remove their organs?

The line between executions and assisted suicide is getting thinner and thinner.  The proponents of assisted suicide say that the difference is that the people who “choose” assisted suicide are doing so freely.  Does anyone really believe that freedom of choice, if it exists now, will survive the pressures of the multiple incentives that exist for doctors to push suicide?

True Dignity has been writing about cost incentives for years.  We have written about organ donation incentives before, but the idea of killing through surgery is a new one for us.

Remember, it was doctors–the people whom every assisted suicide law gives the right to decide who does and who does not get a lethal prescription–who wrote this article.

 

Remember Lauren Hill, the college freshman who, diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, decided to devote her life, however long or short it may be, to raising money for children’s cancer research?  We posted about her last fall when the media was full of stories about Brittany Maynard and Hill was able to play basketball for her college but was getting only a small amount of media attention.  Almost five months after Maynard’s suicide death, Lauren Hill, supposed to be dead by Christmas, is still raising money, from a hospital.  Maynard raised money for a short time to promote assisted suicide.  Hill is living as long as possible to raise money for life-prolonging treatments that will not benefit her but children who come after her.  She knows all medical treatment is only life-prolonging.  We will all die.  She has accepted that as the fact it is, but she does not believe being terminally ill and disabled by illness means she can’t live intensely and productively.    Brittany Maynard was seduced by Compassion and Choices to waste what could have been the most productive days, months or years of her life.  We lost her. Lauren Hill is supported by her community, her college and her family in making the best possible use of  every day she is given.  Lauren Hill is a heroine, and all those helping her live are heroines and heroes.  Oh, and by the way, they are all showing us what dying with dignity looks like.

Donate at thecurestartsnow.org

On March 20, Hill appeared on The View.  Here’s the video.

Assisted suicide is becoming a pseudo-religion, a form of spirituality, in which “(Brittany) Maynard has become a sort of secular saint for the cause, and the media have provided her hagiography,” according to Psychiatrist Aaron Kheriaty of the University of California at Irvine.  What is being worshipped?  In a blogpost linked below, Kheriaty writes that it is a delusional idea of non-existent, impossible control, made all the more ironic by the fact that it is about death, the ultimate proof that in the end we simply do not have control.

True Dignity has repeatedly sounded an alarm as the language used by assisted suicide promoters has become increasingly and unabashedly romantic. As long as it is assisted suicide by a person thought by two doctors to be terminally ill, an act that has historically been viewed with horror and sadness and has been met with prevention efforts is now called “beautiful”, “peaceful”, “remarkable” and “awesome”, worthy of being enabled.  Before 2013, we had read one romanticized obituary in an Oregon newspaper for someone who had committed assisted suicide. However, proponents gradually discovered that conjuring up pretty images of assisted suicide deaths worked__it worked with the VT legislature in 2013__, so Compassion and Choices (formerly known as The Hemlock Society) adopted that strategy in its statewide “educational” effort in Vermont during the summer of 2014, subtly morphing, there and elsewhere, the “movement” for assisted suicide, as Kheriaty says, into something greatly resembling a religion.

As we have noted again and again, the World Health Organization, the National Institutes of Mental Health, and the Vermont Suicide Prevention Platform all warn against using sensationalizing or romanticizing language in public descriptions of suicide, because of the danger of suicide contagion. Though nobody writes a suicide note blaming the act on a newspaper story or a radio report, the existence of suicide clusters has been known since antiquity.[i]  In Vermont, we wonder if the use of such language, in-state and also in the nationally-distributed Brittany Maynard suicide videos, contributed to the cluster of three assisted suicides that occurred here between October 27, 2014 and January 15, 2015, after seventeen months with no deaths under the assisted suicide law.

Kheriaty says it would be far more sensible, and healthier, for people to concentrate their passions and the energies that spring from them on coming to terms and helping others come to terms with reality, the things we cannot change, especially death.

Traditionally, at least in western cultures, we have honored those who died a good death, fighting it as long as fighting was sensible, accepting death when it was obviously inevitable or when doing so would prevent a greater evil or bring good to others, but never self-inflicting it.

If our culture takes the other route, worshiping death and honoring those who bring it on themselves, imagine the trajectory on which we will have set ourselves.  Saints are persons to be emulated.  If our society canonizes people like Brittany Maynard and perhaps Vermont’s Maggie Lake, whose suicide death seems to have taken place at precisely the moment when it was needed to put a value on just the regulations certain pro-assisted-suicide Vermont Senators were about to introduce legislation to preserve in the law, it would be delusional not to expect others to follow their examples, especially that of Maynard, who explicitly spoke of finding meaning in the hope that her suicide would lead to enabling other suicides by expanding legalization of assistance to more states.

Suicide bombers also speak of finding meaning in their suicides.  In trying to understand why they do, we analyze their motives in terms of the problems they face in societies we see as different from ours, with worse economic conditions, a greater sense of rootlessness among the young, etc.  Are we sure they are so different? How many people of all ages feel rootless in our own society?

If we don’t stop ourselves short, we will soon be facing not just the vanishing of the taboo on suicide but a positive cult of suicide.  How many people, searching for meaning, will find and follow this cult?  How many will we lose?  The Oregon experience indicates a strong possibility that there will be many.  In Oregon, the first annual assisted suicide report was issued in February, 1999. Beginning in 2000 the non-assisted suicide rate, which had declined throughout the nineties, began to rise. It has not stopped rising, and the last available report, issued in 2012, showed it to be 41% above the national average.

Sadly it appears that the promoters of assisted suicide are willing to accept the sacrifice of these possible victims of suicide contagion in order to preserve and spread the movement to which they adhere with evangelistic fervor that we think Kheriaty is right to describe as religious. Certainly they have been warned in Vermont. In Australia, assisted suicide crusader Philip Nitschke has explicitly said that such casualties will occur and are an acceptable price to pay.[ii]

As Kheriaty writes, “A culture that honors and exalts those who deliberately reject life is a culture that eventually will come to worship death.”   This prospect should, but no longer seems to, both sadden and alarm us. More than that, it should awaken us. It is still not too late to stop the “movement”, and there is great hope in the fact that no state has followed Vermont in legalizing assisted suicide.

http://www.firstthings.com/article/2015/04/apostolate-of-death

[i] Hecht, Jennifer Michael, Stay (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2013), p. 26.

[ii] http://www.truedignityvt.org/euthanasiaassisted-suicide-advocate-phillip-nitschke-there-will-be-casualties/

Once again the Vermont Legislature is exhibiting an alarming inconsistency on the topic of suicide.

The March 19 Burlington Free Press carries an article about a House resolution discussed March 18 in the Vermont House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs. http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/news/politics/2015/03/18/vermont-military-suicide-resolution/24986339/

Proposed as a joint resolution for the House of Representatives and Senate, it is aimed at helping reduce military suicides, and would encourage the Vermont National Guard to reduce stigma surrounding mental health care. The resolution would also recommend federal-level policies, including more training for mental health counselors about military life.

While we offer kudos to Rep. Mark Higley, R-Lowell, and Rep. Vicki Strong, R-Albany, who sponsored the proposal, for their acknowledgment of this very real problem and for their pro-active compassion toward veterans, we fear that their effort is akin to that of the Dutch boy who put his finger in the dike to try to hold back the impending flood. The reality is that as long as Act 39 is in place, Vermont is working against its own efforts to reduce suicide.

Let’s start by addressing the tiresome claim of proponents of assisted suicide that the people who request drugs to end their lives are not committing suicide. The refrain goes something like this, “These are people who want to live. Unfortunately, they know they are dying and they can’t do anything about it. They simply want to control the manner in which they die.”

First of all: We’re all going to die. So let’s just get that off the table. People who have received terminal diagnoses of six months or less to live, have an idea, but not an assurance, of when they will die. However, the reality is that death is before each and every one of us, each and every day of our lives.

Secondly: It could be argued that most, if not all, people who commit suicide would “like to live” if the circumstances that have led them to consider suicide could be adequately dealt with.   Like those who use the legal route to end their own lives, they are, in fact, also “choosing to control the manner” in which they die. They are succumbing to a sense of hopelessness about ending the suffering they find themselves enduring—and in fact, their actual suffering may be more acute than that of those who are legally eligible for state-supported suicide.

So, by the definition of the suicide proponents themselves, using a doctor-prescribed dose of lethal medication to end one’s life intentionally is still suicide. It’s just a suicide that society has endorsed and, theoretically made easier to accomplish.

To imagine that legalizing suicide for one purportedly narrowly-defined group of sufferers will not lead to the well-documented phenomenon of suicide contagion among others who are at risk for suicide, is magical thinking. As we’ve reported previously, the statistics speak for themselves:

As macabre as it is to say this, we must point out that non-legal means of committing suicide seem to be scarily successful in accomplishing the job for those who are determined to end their lives. We oppose suicide in any form, legal or not. However, our battle is against legal suicide, and we are not proposing to impose our views, or eliminate “choice,” for those who insist on carrying out their own deaths. We simply ask that the law not be used to enable and promote it.

Let’s undo the damage we’ve already done, and not wait for the first (or next) Act 39-inspired suicide of a teenager, a military veteran or another person who is at risk.

Repeal Act 39.

 

Thanks to Alex Schadenberg for the great news that the Montana House has passed a bill specifying that the existing statute that makes assisted suicide illegal also applies to physician assisted suicide.  Thanks especially to Margaret Dore and Bradley Williams, who have been working tirelessly for years to make this happen.  Now its up to the Montana Senate to pass this bill, making it clear that assisted suicide is illegal in Montana.  The people who have been claiming it is not illegal will have to stop.

http://alexschadenberg.blogspot.ca/

 

 

O.J. Brigance, a former star of the Baltimore Ravens football team, who made the first tackle in Superbowl  XXXV, says he has accomplished more since being diagnosed with ALS eight years ago than he ever did while fully able-bodied.  Listen to hear why he opposes legal assisted suicide.   He gave this testimony before the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on March 10, 2015.

https://soundcloud.com/wbalradio/oj-brigance-testimony-on-physician-assisted-suicide-bill?fb_action_ids=10153198577046477&fb_action_types=og.shares

Many Vermonters would be stunned to learn that some eighty years ago, our legislature passed a law enabling the sterilization of Vermonters who had been determined to be “undesirables,” people from targeted groups that included Abenakis and French Canadian immigrants. The 1931 sterilization law was designed to reduce the number of people seen as placing demands on public services and to purify what University of Vermont zoology professor Henry Perkins, a national leader in the eugenics movement , called “the fine old stock of original settlers in Vermont.” The sterilization law came shrouded in rhetoric about improving the lives of the poor, but revealed an agenda of ethnic discrimination that authorized the sterilization of an untold number of people identified by the Vermont Eugenics Survey as “defective.”

Although the Vermont Legislature attempted to correct its past errors by passing a joint resolution in 2010 expressing regret for this dark chapter in Vermont’s history, we have now embarked on a new era of eugenics under Act 39. In a culture that too often devalues the lives of those with serious illnesses and disabilities as “not worth living,” the Legislature has effectively codified a means to discriminate against these populations.  Indeed, a new, and narrow vision for Vermont is emerging, propelled by an economically privileged coalition of well-funded activists, determined to get what they want regardless of whom it may hurt. Though their campaign is cloaked in words like “compassion” and “choice”, it is an odd sort of compassion that proposes killing the sufferer as a way to relieve suffering, and that threatens true choice for the most vulnerable.

Sadly, as evidenced by last week’s Senate vote, our present Legislature seems obstinately unable to connect the dots between the mentality of privilege that underpinned the eugenics movement of the 1930s and the modern-day assisted-suicide movement.   The small but powerful band of death activists who succeeded in passing this very dangerous legislation, have seemingly hypnotized a majority of legislators into thinking they are doing good instead of harm—harm that is potentially irreparable.

Physician assisted suicide is at the top of a slippery slope that will move from “choice to die” to “duty to die,” and enable the elimination of people who have been deemed dispensable, burdensome and too expensive to care for in our society. We must be clear: If any one person is vulnerable because of age, illness, disability or financial need, then we are all vulnerable.   Will future generations look back on this age and cry foul, as we have decried the Vermont sterilization movement of the 20th century?   If we do not speak up for the terminally ill and the disabled now, who will speak for us when our time comes?

No “joint resolution” will ever be able to bring back the dead.

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