Last November, Colorado passed Proposition 106, making it the fifth state to legislate assisted suicide. Oregon, Washington, California and Vermont already had assisted suicide laws on the books. Montana also has it not by legislation but by an activist court.
Since Wyoming is sandwiched between Montana and Colorado, it is a sure bet that we will see ever increasing efforts to bring assisted suicide to our state. Don’t be caught flat-footed. Now is the time to understand the issues and be prepared for the onslaught.
If Colorado is any indication, there will be precious little room for rational thought once the former Hemlock Society decides to push the issue. Last year, Colorado saw 5.7 million untraceable dollars poured into an advertising campaign that outspent the voices for suicide prevention two to one.
Were these dollars from regular folks interested in suicide? Or was it global tycoons and an insurance industry intent on buying a victory for their agenda? We have no way of knowing, but common sense can probably make a good guess.
While we can only guess about who’s pushing for suicide laws, we don’t need to guess about the impact of the laws themselves. Oregon passed the first assisted suicide laws almost 20 years ago. By now, we have ample evidence to discern their real-life consequences. Let’s look at just three of them.
The first casualty of assisted suicide is medicine itself. Medicine is defined as “a substance used for the treatment or prevention of disease.” But states with assisted suicide laws redefine medicine itself. For them it can also mean its opposite: “a substance used with the explicit intent to cause death.”
Let that sink in. Consider the implications of turning the word “medicine” upside-down. For all of your life, when you went to the medical center or were given medicine, you could rest assured that they were intending to help your ailing body. Now, you have to ask for clarity. Is this “medicine” to help me live, or to help me die? Chilling.
From the very dawn of modern medicine, the Hippocratic Oath has defined medical ethics. It is one of the oldest binding documents in history and reads, in part, “I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.” Countless doctors bound themselves by this oath and can be forced by assisted suicide laws to break a solemn oath.
Besides the infringement on the consciences of our physicians, we should consider the staggering effect on the entire practice of medicine when this fundamental pillar of medical ethics is swept away.
This sweeping redefinition of medicine is so incredible that your average man on the street simply can’t take it in. But you can bet your boots that insurance companies are counting on it. Now they have the backing of state law to consider death as a viable treatment option.
You already know the frustration and harm that insurance companies can cause by refusing to cover a medicine or a procedure, insisting on a cheaper generic or a lower quality option. Wait until your doctor tells you that your insurance won’t cover the life-saving procedure he is recommending, but they will cover lethal drugs!
That is exactly the scenario that is already playing out in California and Oregon. Dr. Brian Callister recently reported that insurance carriers in California and Oregon denied life-saving treatments for his patients while offering instead to pay for assisted suicide.
In times past, we could at least sue the insurance company for coverage. But now, these states have provided legal cover for greed by designating suicide as a legitimate medical procedure.
Prop. 106 in Colorado partially addresses this outrage by stipulating that assisted suicide cannot be legally considered as an option unless someone is “terminally ill.” This is further defined as someone who has less than six months to live.
On the face of it, this restriction on assisted suicide can cut out some of the most blatant abuses. But, again, 20 years of experience have shown us that the designation “six months to live” is not so solid as it seems. There are at least three ways that this safeguard can be skirted.
First, there is doctor-shopping. In Colorado, the enforcement of this stricture is left entirely up to the attending physician and another consulting physician. They have no oversight to make sure their predictions for the future are sound. Physicians and family members intent on providing assisted suicide will have no trouble finding a like-minded colleague who will back up his diagnosis.
Second, dire predictions are notoriously inaccurate. There are oodles of cases where people outlived their doctor’s best estimates by months and even years. What recourse does a family have when a doctor’s inaccurate prediction becomes the basis for a patient’s suicide? How do you undo a mistaken suicide?
Third, it is an open question whether the prediction of “six months to live” is calculated with or without life-sustaining treatments. For instance, a diabetic can live indefinitely as long as he receives insulin. But if you were to calculate how long he might live without insulin, his life span may only be days. Likewise, patients with AIDS can live for years with the proper medication, but lives are severely shortened when they stop taking it.
Over the past 20 years, we have seen much fudging of the six-month limit by calculating life-expectancy without the simple medicine to sustain it. How long will it be before a person is judged to have only six months to live, assuming the withdrawal of food or water? There is nothing in Colorado’s law which would prevent that. This has the potential to render the “terminally ill” requirement as virtually meaningless.
Not only are doctors being asked to break the Hippocratic Oath and to fudge life-expectancy predictions, they are also being commanded to lie! I know that sounds alarmist and incredible. So let me simply quote from the Colorado law: “The attending physician shall sign the death certificate of a qualified individual who obtained a self-administered aid-in-dying medication … the cause of death shall be listed as the underlying terminal illness.”
Even though it is absolutely clear to all involved that the self-administered drug is the cause of death, the attending physician is forbidden, by law, from reporting this on the death certificate. Why this stipulation? Because life insurance policies almost always have a clause which does not allow a claim when the insured person commits suicide. So, by making the attending physician falsify the death certificate, state governments are aiding and abetting fraud against insurance companies.
The redefinition of medicine itself, meaningless and unenforceable restrictions and the falsification of death certificates are three examples of the way language is twisted by assisted suicide laws. These are not just hypothetical possibilities. They are realities that have been happening for almost two decades in those states that have passed assisted suicide legislation.
We have not even begun to talk about how the promotion of assisted suicide undercuts our ongoing efforts to prevent suicides across the board. That will have to be a conversation for another day. These problems alone are enough to give us serious pause.
Now is the time to be educated and equipped. This issue is not going away any time soon.
Jonathan Lange has a heart for our state and community. Locally, he has raised his family and served as pastor of Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Evanston and St. Paul’s in Kemmerer for two decades. Statewide, he leads the Wyoming Pastors Network in advocating for the traditional church in the public square.