Commentary

Jackowski: Assisted suicide is not the answer

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by Rosemarie Jackowski, an advocacy journalist and peace activist who is the author of “Banned in Vermont.”

The “assisted suicide bill” does exactly what it is designed not to do. It will eliminate choice for the most vulnerable. Unintended consequences are sure to follow. We need more, not fewer rights. Government-approved suicide as an end-of-life option does not give more rights — in reality it takes them away.

Some legislators promise “safeguards.” There are no safeguards that can ensure that there will not be abuse. Some of the most vulnerable will be pressured to end it all for the convenience and sometimes for the financial benefit of others. Patients will be unduly influenced into giving in to family members. Many elderly/disabled have loving supportive families. It is those who do not who are at the highest risk. There is no way that abuse can be prevented. Imagine being isolated with caregivers — Stockholm syndrome.

The assisted suicide law will deprive many of choice. Recent history shows that more than 300 cases of reported abuse of the disabled/elderly have been ignored by the state. This is evidence that the state cannot protect the vulnerable. The assisted suicide law will add another layer of risk. It will make things worse.

The need for health care advocates is one of the biggest issues of our time. Families are dispersed and distant. Often the elderly are abandoned. Friends die. Suddenly a nursing home is the only option.

Prejudice cloaked in good intentions is still prejudice. Why is the law limited to the most vulnerable, the disabled, the elderly? If suicide is a movement that will benefit society, open it up to everyone. The devaluing of the elderly and disabled is now an accepted fact of life and death. If this law did not show prejudice against the most vulnerable, it would be written to include everyone — young and old, healthy and sick. Sometimes the young and healthy would chose to end it all.

For those pressured to die, there will be no choice. Behind closed doors in private, who will be there to protect them? Elder abuse is a major hidden problem. Talk to anyone in a nursing home — give them anonymity, and they will tell all.

Recently, a friend was searching for a way out … suicide. He was not in physical pain. He was not terminally ill. His problem was that he was in a nursing home and the conditions there were not good. What he needed was a health care advocate — someone to advocate for him. The need for health care advocates is one of the biggest issues of our time. Families are dispersed and distant. Often the elderly are abandoned. Friends die. Suddenly a nursing home is the only option. There have been two reported murders in local nursing homes in recent years. No one can estimate how many murders go unreported. Isolation, neglect and poor living conditions are other important issues.

It can be argued that there are some justifications for suicide. That may be true, but belief in the infallibility of a diagnosis is not a valid reason. Some doctors and hospitals have already announced that they will not participate in this type of death process.

The assisted suicide bill is the wrong answer to the wrong question. The important question is not the length of time left. “…Over the years I’ve learned that my patients are people who can live an entire lifetime in six months or a year. What they do with this time represents a much higher quality of life than that enjoyed by ‘normal’ people who are caught up in the trivia of day-to-day, and not really focused on what is important …” Keith Black, MD, author of “Brain Surgeon.”

The question that we should be asking is how can we improve life and death for all. There are three unmet needs that should be addressed by the Legislature.

First, health care must be made available to all. Universal, comprehensive single payer that includes dental, vision and long-term care is the answer.

Second, the alleviation of pain must be considered. Ethics require that everything scientifically possible should be done to eliminate suffering. It is usually possible to do that without killing the patient.

Third, and most important of all, those at high risk must be protected. There is only one way to do that. We must set up a system of health care advocates. This does not have to cost taxpayers a lot of money. A system based on volunteers could work. The main qualification would be compassion and the pledge to honor privacy.

Will we soon see Grandpa set adrift on an ice floe on the shore of Lake Champlain? There must be a better way.

If you read us, please support us.

Comment Policy

VTDigger.org requires that all commenters identify themselves by their authentic first and last names. Initials, pseudonyms or screen names are not permissible.

No personal harrassment, abuse, or hate speech is permitted. Comments should be 1000 characters or fewer.

We moderate every comment. Please go to our FAQ for the full policy.

Commentary

About Commentaries

VTDigger.org publishes 12 to 18 commentaries a week from a broad range of community sources. All commentaries must include the author’s first and last name, town of residence and a brief biography, including affiliations with political parties, lobbying or special interest groups. We have a minimum length of 400 words. We have found the ideal length is approximately 600 to 800 words. We provide some copyediting support, but we do not have the staff to fact-check commentaries. We reserve the right to reject opinions for matters of taste and accuracy. Commentaries are voices from the community and do not represent VTDigger in any way. Please send your commentary to Cate Chant, [email protected], and Anne Galloway, [email protected]

Email: [email protected]

Latest Commentaries

Recent Stories

Thanks for reporting an error with the story, "Jackowski: Assisted suicide is not the answer"
  • Rolf Mueller

    Jackowski: Assisted suicide is not the answer
    “If suicide is a movement that will benefit society, open it up to everyone.”
    “Government-approved suicide as an end-of-life option does not give more rights”

    Oh, come on Rosemarie
    It’s all in the naming.
    “The question that we should be asking is how can we improve life and death for all.”

    Well, I don’t want to be in the business of improving death for all.
    Suicide is not a movement, it’s a personal choice. And with all choices it can be a good or a bad one.
    The government doesn’t approve suicide, it accepts the choice of individuals to end suffering.
    As the governor said at today’s Vermont Edition
    only people with full mental capacity are able to initiate the dignity to die the way they choose.
    If you suffer from dementia you will be kept alive.

    But you are right that “..health care must be made available to all. Universal, comprehensive single payer that includes dental, vision and long-term care ….”

    Thanks for caring Rosemarie.

    .

    • Bob Orleck

      Rolf Mueller:

      You say “The government doesn’t approve suicide, it accepts the choice of individuals to end suffering.

      As the governor said at today’s Vermont Edition
      only people with full mental capacity are able to initiate the dignity to die the way they choose.”

      I would like to ask you a question. When is it determined that a person has or does not have full mental capacity. Let me answer that. It is when the physician writes the lethal prescription. Now you answer this: How can we be certain the patient has “full mental capacity” when they actually take the medication. It may sit in the patient’s medicine chest for a 3 months, 6 months or even longer if the physician 6 month diagnosis is (and is many times) wrong. What procedure is in place at those points to test the patient’s mental capacity? Why is it so important to do that only at the time a physician writes the prescription? Please answer if you can or anyone else please answer.

      • The assisted suicide laws in Oregon, Washington and now Vermont do not include requirements of capacity, consent or anything else after the prescription is written. Moreover, whenever the lethal dose is administered, no independent or disinterested witness is required, so there’s no way to know if it was actually self-administered, or whether there was consent. Even if the person tried to resist, if they couldn’t fight back effectively, who would ever know?

        • rosemarie jackowski

          Diane…Thanks. You make an important point.

          How many cases are in the courts now of people being ‘slipped’ drugs against their will and without their knowledge. This is common with abortion inducing drugs, also the date rape drug…
          http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/05/16/man-charged-with-murder-for-allegedly-tricking-girlfriend-into-taking-an-abortion-pill

        • Bob Orleck

          Diane: You are right on all the points you raise. We must now work for repeal based on the best knowledge we can acquire about all the horrific things that will happen in the name of Physician Assisted Suicide and run good people who will look at facts instead of being driven solely by emotion. Thanks again!

  • Aw, jeez, Rosemarie, I’d sure love, just once, to see you support something rather than oppose it. Still love ya, though .

    • rosemarie jackowski

      Eddie….I support a lot of things – the First Amendment, most of the bill of Rights, dissent, peace, non-violence, Single Payer Health Care, small local schools, flowers, trees, little babies, and I support all commenters here – even when they disagree with me. Hugs….

  • Bob Stannard

    This letter is a classic example of the “boogie man” tactics exhibited in the State House by those opposing Patient’s Choice. It’s full of “what ifs” and scarey scenarios that will, in all likelihood, never come to pass.

    Read the bill. Only the patient can make the request. Those at “high risk” will be protected. Currently, if you want to set Grandpa adrift on an ice flow, you can do so and if you’re caught you will be charged with murder. This bill, now law, will not change that.

    Time will tell who was right and who was wrong in this long debate. If the law is somehow abused I think it’s fair to say that even the proponents would work hard to change it. That said, you’d have to be a very evil person to want to find a way to use this particular to end the life of another. It’s doubtful that you’d be any more successful with this law verses any other law already on the books.

  • Scott Garren

    Understandable concerns but there is data based on experience in Oregon and the Netherlands where Physician Assisted Suicide has been legal for some time do not support such worries.

    “Findings based on robust data

    Rates of assisted dying in Oregon and in the Netherlands showed no evidence of heightened risk for the elderly, women, the uninsured (inapplicable in the Netherlands, where all are insured), people with low educational status, the poor, the physically disabled or chronically ill, minors, people with psychiatric illnesses including depression, or racial or ethnic minorities, compared with background populations.

    The elderly: no evidence of heightened risk

    In Oregon, 10% of patients who died by PAS were 85 or older, whereas 21% of all Oregon deaths were among persons in this age category. Persons aged 18–64 years were over three times more likely than those over age 85 years to receive assisted dying. In the Netherlands, rates of assisted dying were lowest in the people over 80 (0.8% in 2005), next lowest in the age range 65–74 years (2.1%) and higher below age 65 (3.5%). People over 80 formed 30% of the group of patients whose requests were refused and 13% of those whose requests were granted and carried out.”

    For more see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2652799/

    • Bob Orleck

      Dear Scott: Glad you mentioned the Netherlands. Are you aware of the report from the Netherlands that 18% of those doing physician assisted suicide fail in their attempt and have to be done away with by lethal injection from a physician? Are you aware that Oregon has no procedure to find out whether there are any complications for those who die under the law? Did you know that 66 out of the 77 who died in 2012 in Oregon, by Oregon’s own report, had unknown listed as to whether they had complications? Using the Netherlands data that 18% do have complications that would mean that about 7 of these 66 had major complications and that would mean they suffered terribly and there was no one to give them a lethal injection. Possibly a non-loving relative might have been present who could assist the patient with a pillow over their face but of course we would never know that because there is not reporting from people who are present at the death. Doesn’t this bother you? Please respond if you can!

  • Kathy Callaghan

    “The government doesn’t approve suicide, it accepts the choice of individuals to end suffering.”

    How does the government NOT approve suicide when it enacts a law to make it legal?

    • Lee Russ

      Pure semantics, Kathy. If you think the government “approves” of everything it does not prohibit, then you’ll see this as government approval. But, then you’d have to think that the government “approves” of infidelity because it does not ban it.

      Your definition is too broad to have any meaning.

      In my view, the “right” to control the end of your own life should rest with you. This bill gives some portion of people that right. whether the legislature crafted a wise, safe bill only time can tell.

      • David Dempsey

        I agree that everyone has the right to end their own life on ther terms. So why do you say this bill gives “some portion of people that right” when these people already have the right to control the end their life? This bill gives “some portion of people” simply another choice of how to do it. I had a sibling that made the decision to end his life. Even if this bill was in place back then, he was not physically ill and would not have been eligible to request the prescription. But he still was able to end his life on his own terms and was resourceful enough to find a way to do it without asking anyone else for assistance.

    • Bob Orleck

      You are right on Kathy Calligan and what a message it sends to a troubled teen that the State thinks it is acceptable and legal for a person to end their life during their troubled end of life time. The legislature by oath agrees to do the public no harm. No only harm, there will be unexpected consequences and those that passed this law will be culpable.

      • Jason Farrell

        “The legislature by oath agrees to do the public no harm.”

        Beyond the ludicracy of your assertion that this law creates public harm, would you care to point to where in the Vermont constitution this supposed “oath” legislators take to do the public no harm?

        The Oath required of senators and representatives from the Vermont State Constitution, Chapter II, Section 17:

        Ҥ 17. Oath of senators and representatives

        The Representatives having met on the day appointed by law for the commencement of a biennial session of the General Assembly, and chosen their Speaker, and the Senators having met, shall, before they proceed to business, take and subscribe the following oath, in addition to the oath prescribed in the foregoing section:

        You do solemnly swear (or affirm) that you did not at the time of your election to this body, and that you do not now, hold any office of profit or trust under the authority of Congress. So help you God. (Or in case of an affirmation) Under the pains and penalties of perjury. The words “office of profit or trust under the authority of Congress” shall be construed to mean any office created directly or indirectly by Congress, and for which emolument is provided from the Treasury of the United States, other than that of a member of the commissioned or enlisted personnel in the reserve components of the armed forces of the United States while not on extended active duty.”

        Like many of the assertions I’ve read you claim while attempting to demagogue this issue, there’s simply no “there” there.

        • Bob Orleck

          Dear Jason Farrell:

          Considering the content of my statements and from my position with lack of authority, I truly doubt that you know what it means to demagogue.

          I do love your use of “there’s simply no there there.” I heard President Obama used that when trying to convince us there is nothing new regarding the Benghazi murders. When I heard him say that it reminded me of President Clinton’s “It all depends on what is is” statement and the end result of that.

          I have asked valid questions that no one, including you even try to answer. You might want to focus on the truth of the statements I have made instead of trying to come up with put downs. There needs to be a focus on the facts surrounding Physician Assisted Suicide instead of this blind rush to pass something based on nothing but emotion and on lies told about safeguards and supporting data in Oregon law regarding no problems. What has been done by this legislature will hurt so many people long into the future. There will be medication administration failures, pain and suffering before death. In addition this horrific law will enable murderers to murder and greedy relatives to coerce their elderly relatives to die.

          And by the way, I did not just make up the do no harm oath! In his explanation of his no vote for S77, Representative Warren Van Wyck on May 21, 2013 on the floor of the House said the following: “This bill in the final stages is not about health care nor about the withdrawal of extraordinary medical intervention. This is the State’s construction of physician assisted suicide by the prescription of a lethal dose of a controlled drug. The House oath states: “I will not propose, or assent to, any bill, vote or resolution, which shall appear to me injurious to the people, ….” This bill is beyond injurious; it is lethal.” Physician assisted suicide will be a cancer in Vermont’s health care system – just like it is now in Oregon’s.”

          So you can see that I did not just grab that out of thin air. Maybe if I was smart like you I would have gone to the Vermont Constitution but if I had I would have seen the words in the section you quoted that said and it does say “in addition to the oath prescribed in the foregoing section”. Seeing that I think I would have looked at the previous section 16. Did you? It says;

          § 16. [REPRESENTATIVES’ OATHS]
          The Representatives having met, and chosen their Speaker and Clerk, shall each of them, before they proceed to business, take and subscribe, as well the oath or affirmation of allegiance hereinafter directed (except where they shall produce certificates of their having theretofore taken and subscribed the same) as the following oath or affirmation:

          You do solemnly swear (or affirm) that as a member of this Assembly, you will not propose, or assent to, any bill, vote or resolution, which shall appear to you injurious to the people, nor do nor consent to any act or thing whatever, that shall have a tendency to lessen or abridge their rights and privileges, as declared by the Constitution of this State; but will, in all things, conduct yourself as a faithful, honest Representative and guardian of the people, according to the best of your judgment and ability.

          Under the pains and penalties of perjury.

          My goodness, there is there there Jason, isn’t there? Well, now that we have gone through this, it makes me wonder why you would even have challenged me on those “do no harm” words. Surely, you would not disagree with its prescription against doing that which is “injurious to the people”. Hmmm! And that is exactly what it does. It injures the people!

          I know now that you may want to apologize, but instead of doing that, please go back and look at the questions I raised in posts to this article and give me a well-researched and fact based answer to them.

          Regards
          Bob Orleck
          P.O. Box 174
          Randolph, VT 05060

          • Jason Farrell

            Judging by your snarky retorts, it’s not hard to imagine why you weren’t given more authority by your neighbors this past March. Check out the verb “demagogue”. Your advocacy on this issue is clearly demagoguery.

            Anyway, in my haste, I did miss section 16 of the Vermont Constitution. My apologies. Great catch.

            However, part of the oath says, “…which shall appear to you injurious to the people”. We can agree that “shall appear to you” is a fairly personal and subjective standard, right? Do you have evidence that those who voted for this bill did so even though it “appeared to them to be injurious to the people”? Good luck proving that one.

            Still no “there” there.

            While you continue to pumping out misinformation and fear (demagoguery), this law protects the rights of individuals, which, I’ve just learned, is also a part of the oath of elected representatives.

            “nor do nor consent to any act or thing whatever, that shall have a tendency to lessen or abridge their rights and privileges”.

            The rights of those at end of life are no longer abridged by laws that penalize, or lessen the rights and privileges of those who would choose to end their lives as this law proscribes.

            That’s a good thing. And, no one who doesn’t want the protections it affords will be subjected to it.

          • Bob Orleck

            Jason Farrell: I am not trying to be “snarky” and do not believe I am. I can assure you that my only purpose for writing to you is the hope that you and others might see that objective facts rather than wishes, emotion and assumptions should rule when you are dealing with life and death matters in legislation. I am deadly serious about his! Surely you have lived in this world long enough to know that people will take advantage of loopholes to get there way, even to the extent of doing away with someone. A true evaluation of this law should alert anyone who honestly thinks it through that it creates a real and present danger to vulnerable people and thus is injurious to the public.

            So unless you address the issues I have raised about the complications of the drugs instead of playing word games, I will have to assume that you are like most liberals. When they can’t debate the issue, they call names and make derogatory statements about the other person’s intent. Your words: “While you continue to pumping out misinformation and fear (demagoguery), this law protects the rights of individuals, which, I’ve just learned, is also a part of the oath of elected representatives. “nor do nor consent to any act or thing whatever, that shall have a tendency to lessen or abridge their rights and privileges”. Jason: I think you should give it up. You blasted me for referring to something you admit through haste you missed. Now you have misstated what that part of the oath that you missed actually says. You know full well that there is no period after privileges but there is a coma followed by “as declared by the Constitution of this State”. So show me where such rights and privileges are extant and what they say. Not too honest, Jason!

            Why don’t you try a new approach? Look at what I have pointed out about the medical problems with this law and address them factually. I don’t think you are capable of doing that do I think you will even try.

          • Jason Farrell

            “Why don’t you try a new approach? Look at what I have pointed out about the medical problems with this law and address them factually. I don’t think you are capable of doing that do I think you will even try.”

            Why don’t you take your own advice and try a new approach, because I’m certain you’ll have to going forward.

            Your voice has been heard and was represented in the legislature. Even though, there was overwhelming bi-partisan support for this bill that is now a law in the state of Vermont. No one has to disprove or even address your hypothetical fear-mongering any longer. Your opponents won. It’s the law. We will now have the opportunity to observe objective facts rather than the wishes, emotions and assumptions you’ve made. Your burden is now to prove that the fears you hold about this bill are happening in practice. You won’t because they won’t.

            Good day.

      • rosemarie jackowski

        Agreed….”Do no Harm”….Repeal this Law.

    • Rolf Mueller

      The law doesn’t make suicide legal.
      It gives the power to the individual. Where it belongs.
      It’s my body. You want the government to tell me that I can’t die?

  • rosemarie jackowski

    Will this new law change the rules for Mandatory Reporters? Will they still be required to report anyone who is thinking about harming himself?

    • Jason Farrell

      From the Vermont Statute pertaining to mandatory reporting:

      “Title 33: Human Services
      Chapter 69: REPORTS OF ABUSE, NEGLECT, AND EXPLOITATION OF VULNERABLE ADULTS

      (7) “Neglect” means purposeful or reckless failure or omission by a caregiver to:

      (iii) carry out a plan of care for a vulnerable adult when such failure results in or could reasonably be expected to result in physical or psychological harm or a substantial risk of death to the vulnerable adult, unless the caregiver is acting pursuant to the wishes of the vulnerable adult or his or her representative, or a terminal care document, as defined in 18 V.S.A. chapter 111, subchapter 2″

      Any qualified patients suffering a terminal condition who choose to use this law have to, by definition, express their “wish” to act in accordance with the law.

      Therefore, the answer is “no”; mandated reporters will not considered to be exercising neglect of an adult as the caregiver in such a case would be “acting pursuant to the wishes of the vulnerable adult” and would not be mandated to report their patient’s choice to exercise this legal option for themselves.

  • Jason Farrell

    For those who “worry” about the impact this law will have on life insurance policies, fret no longer.

    From the law:

    § 5287. INSURANCE POLICIES; PROHIBITIONS
    (a) A person and his or her beneficiaries shall not be denied benefits under a life insurance policy, as defined in 8 V.S.A. § 3301, for actions taken in accordance with this chapter.

    http://www.leg.state.vt.us/docs/2014/Acts/ACT039.pdf

    • Craig Powers

      Life insurance policies generally have “exclusions” written into them for not paying the death claim if the insured commits suicide within two years of a policy issue date.

      It will be interesting to see how these exclusions will be adjusted based on this new law. Hopefully it will be a rare situation where a healthy person buys a life policy and then gets terminally ill within the two year suicide exclusion period.

      • rosemarie jackowski

        But, some of those who have a life insurance policy will be at increased risk of being ‘encouraged’ to use assisted suicide. The beneficiaries will have an incentive to collect on the policy.

        Those who are totally dependent on others for their care and survival see the world differently than we do. Their view should be respected and increasing their risk might be legal, but is it moral?

        • Craig Powers

          If they are sick and going to die anyway…what is the difference?

        • Jason Farrell

          “Those who are totally dependent on others for their care and survival see the world differently than we do.”

          …and, those who are totally dependent on others for their care and survival will not meet the criteria for being eligible to participate in this law.

          Just another in a string of desperately specious arguments seemingly intended to create fear. It appears it’s not just those who are totally dependent on others for their care and survival that see the world differently than we do. Those who oppose this law even after its passage are left to imagine a world that doesn’t exist in an attempt to deny or shame others who choose this new legal right. The paranoid fantasies being concocted are just that, but the reality is it’s now incumbent on those who promise nefarious outcomes to produce evidence of such outcomes in Vermont as a result of this law instead of the promotion of hysterical hypotheticals through constant conjecture.

  • Jackowski is right about the elder abuse. See Margaret Dore, Vermont Passes Irresponsible Assisted Suicide Bill, at this link: http://www.vermontagainstassistedsuicide.org/2013/05/vermont-passes-irresponsible-assisted.html