Mon, 02 Mar 2009 18:59:23 +0000 – Beginning on Thursday, March 5 in Washington state, doctors may prescribe lethal drugs to patients they determine have less than six months to live. This marks the implementation stage of a law passed last November by voters in the state.
Assisted suicide laws like those passed in Oregon and Washington don't happen by chance.euthanasia
At first glance the Washington law appears to be relatively moderate, with clear and restrictive parameters:
- Patients must be at least 18 years old
- Declared competent
- Be a resident of the state.
- Patients must make two oral requests of the lethal drug, 15 days apart, and submit a written request witnessed by two people, one of which must not be a relative, heir, attending doctor, or connected with a health facility where the requester lives.
- No doctor is obliged to prescribe the drugs.
But if we scratch the surface, the whole scenario starts to get very messy. First, the new Washington law prohibits doctors from documenting their patient's real cause of death if it is from doctor-prescribed drugs -- even when they are certain the patient has taken them. Instead, doctors must certify the cause of death as the patient's original illness. Yes, in Washington, what rational people would consider malpractice--lying about the cause of death--is now required by law.
This is a perfect example of the Machiavellian politics surrounding state laws that oblige citizens to subject truth (in this case medical science) to convenience, for whatever sordid reason. According to the law's supporters, the reason for this measure is to protect a patient's right to privacy (apparently, an absolute right that in this case trumps even transparency). As it turns out, this stipulation in the law makes things very convenient for the of the euthanasia movement. Without this end-of-life documentation, it is impossible to produce definitive data about how many people will have used doctor-prescribed drugs to end their lives in the Evergreen State.
The second great reason for concern is the increasing financial benefits assisted suicide laws provide to strapped state budgets and to HMOs. Even before our current financial crisis, there was already evidence that patients in Oregon had been offered free suicide drugs as a less costly alternative to expensive healing or palliative medicines. A case in point was Barbara Wagner, a 64-year-old Oregon resident, who was informed last May that her cancer had returned. Her doctor prescribed a new drug that could extend her life, but Oregon's Medicaid program sent her a form letter saying it would not cover the cost of the drugs. In the same unsigned letter she was also offered information about an affordable alternative: Medicaid would cover "comfort care", including "physician aid in dying" (the lethal drugs would have cost the state less than $100). Barbara died in October, but first left this moving video, pleading with the voters of Washington state not to let the same thing happen to them. Eventually, the director of Oregon's Medicaid program admitted the organization sends such letters to patients whom they think have little chance of surviving.
Assisted suicide laws like those passed in Oregon and Washington don't happen by chance. The activist group, "Death with Dignity," has mapped out a national strategy designed to pass similar laws across the country. In the organization's 2007 annual report, for example, it made its case for going after Washington as the next stop on its campaign:
"This next year, we will be directing our legal and political efforts, along with financial resources, to a coalition of groups working to expand end-of-life options for the terminally ill in the state of Washington. ... [W]e have never had such great odds of success as we have in Washington in 2008. That is why we will be directing $1.5 million over the next year and a half to the efforts in Washington."
"Death with Dignity" has recruited benefactors with high hopes for relaxing restrictions on euthanasia. If former Washington governor, Booth Gardner, has any say (and he has already made his voice heard by donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to the assisted suicide campaign in his state), the laws will become increasingly less restrictive as we get more accustomed to the practice. As a Parkinson's patient, Governor Gardner has lamented that current laws still only cover terminally ill patients with less than six months to live. While it is understandable the governor is concerned about his own future, I wonder if he has given any thought to the consequences for people of lesser means whose choice between life and death will be made for them by the state and HMOs, if he gets his way. For the most vulnerable in our society, the buzz words of "privacy" and "choice" are never as nice as they seem to the rest of us.
Beginning this week, let's keep our eye on Washington state. Economics have a way of speeding things along...
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Father Jonathan Morris is a FOX News analyst and author of the book, "The Promise: God's Purpose and Plan for When Life Hurts" which is now available in paperback.
Father Jonathan Morris, who joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in May 2005, currently serves as a contributor and also writes for FoxNews.com.