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Chuck DeVore- Contributor

Assemblyman Chuck DeVore represents 450,000 residents of Orange County California’s 70th Assembly District.. He served as a Reagan White House appointee in the Pentagon from 1986 to 1988 and was Senior Assistant to Cong. Chris Cox. He is a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. Chuck’s novel, CHINA ATTACKS, sells internationally and has been translated into Chinese for sales in Taiwan. [go to DeVore index]

Liberally Compassionate Suicide...
Should California allow doctors to help patients to kill themselves?…

[Chuck DeVore] 3/4/05

With libertarians, liberals, and seven out of ten Californians on one side, who can be opposed to doctor-assisted suicide?

Count me in. While seemingly compassionate on its face, this is a very bad idea that, if passed, some of us won’t live long enough to regret.

Let us first agree that no one wants to see a dying patient stripped of dignity and trapped inside a suffering body. With modern pain-suppression drugs, however, the terminally ill need not suffer unbearable pain. Furthermore, the cause of most suicides is not pain itself, but depression.

Leaving that aside for the moment, consider two powerful exhibits in the case against assisted suicide, which Assembly Bill 654 by Democrats Patty Berg and Lloyd Levine would legalize: Holland and newly disabled people.

The Netherlands has allowed doctor assisted suicide for over 20 years, ever since the courts ordered it in 1984 (yes, liberal judges lurk everywhere), then finally passing a voluntary euthanasia law in 2002.

Several subsequent studies of the Netherlands’ experiment have uncovered a chilling reality: many deaths reported as assisted suicides are actually cases of euthanasia where doctors deemed a person’s life was not worth living – then ended it for the victim. Physicians, who are often seen as knowing-best, tend to devalue the life of an ill or disabled person, as do others in society. Of course, a non-doctor’s view of a suffering or disabled person hasn’t the potentially grave impact as a physician holding the power of life and death.

As a result, what started as assisted suicide for terminally-ill people in the Netherlands now includes chronic illness, psychological illness, and even those who can’t decide for themselves.

For this reason, the elderly in Holland are often afraid to go to the hospital with a serious illness for fear a doctor may decide to kill them. Add to this, an increasingly socialized medical system where there is mounting pressure to cut costs by prescribing a one-time $50 drug cocktail to end suffering, rather than pay for an ongoing costly treatment plan that may keep a “useless” person alive.

Furthermore, when doctors decide to kill, often left out of consideration is any undiagnosed mental illness such as depression. Ongoing pain often causes depression. Thus, requests for assisted suicide are highly connected with unrelieved pain.

Let us now consider the second matter, the fate of the newly disabled. Those who have recently been disabled are often profoundly depressed, and a great number of them desire to end their lives soon after acquiring the disability.

After a period of grieving passes, however, most people with a new disability learn life does not end because of their disability. For these people, life becomes worth living again and they are glad they did not take that final step because while suffering can be manageable or transient, death is always permanent. And death of this horrific sort only serves to cheapen life in society and within the medical profession.

Thus, by assisting in a suicide or, as in the Netherlands, taking an active step in killing another “suffering” person, we do not enhance their humanity, we simply collude in the dehumanization of all people everywhere.

The solution, then, is not senseless death but better, more effective health care that adequately addresses patients’ suffering and, just as important, their fears.

Something must be said of the doctors’ part in this equation. By enacting assisted suicide, we would be asking doctors to violate their Hippocratic Oath, which says “First do no harm.” Significantly, the American Medical Association has repeatedly weighed in against this procedure, saying it is “fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer” and “would be difficult or impossible to control” – as has been the case in Holland.

Finally, the push for assisted suicide ignores the fact that a person’s worth is not contingent upon their ability to “do.” What’s more, just because a person is infirm or suffering, this does not render their life as one not worth living. These people can and do make contributions to society in a variety of ways.

Killing oneself in the face of pain or depression may be a seemingly attractive, even compassionate path to take, but it is actually just the opposite. Yes, let us find ways to truly help those in desperate situations. But assisted suicide? It is the wrong prescription. CRO

copyright 2005 Chuck DeVore




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