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It’s Either Assisted Suicide for Everyone or for No One

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Last week, Vox.com ran a very interesting piece about physician-assisted suicide titled “Everyone should have the right to assisted suicide — or no one should.”  In it, a philosophy professor from Brown University explores the moral and logical arguments about so-called “death with dignity” laws in the U.S. Although she never takes a position on PAS one way or another in the piece, the author’s arguments clearly highlight the cynical nature of “death with dignity” laws. Below, we highlight some of the arguments she makes in the piece, with additional thoughts from our experience.

First, PAS bills — like what’s been filed in the Maryland the last two legislative sessions — are inherently discriminatory. They only allow people who have a terminal illness and a diagnosis of six months or less to live to receive PAS. The question is: why that population should qualify for PAS while all others cannot? What about people with dementia, for example, who never will receive a six-month terminal diagnosis? Are they not as worthy of “death with dignity”? Supporters of PAS argue this is a safeguard meant to protect against abuse, but it’s clearly discriminatory.

Taking this argument a step further, states who have already legalized physician-assisted suicide are agreeing that if you have a terminal diagnosis  and six months or less to live, you are living an “undignified” life, it is OK to be suicidal, and the only “dignified” end is through PAS.

At the same time, these states all have very active government programs seeking to lower the suicide rate among all other people in the state.  Apparently, suicide is fine if you’ve received a terminal diagnosis, but suicide must be stopped at all costs for everyone else who is not terminal. Logically this makes no sense.

After running through these arguments, Professor Ackerman concludes that if a state deems that PAS should be legal, the only logical way to implement it is to allow anyone who believes they are leading an undignified life to access to physician-assisted suicide. Or, as the article’s title indicates, a state should say that no one should have access to PAS. Any other option is discriminatory and morally faulty.

Of course, we strongly believe that no one should have access to physician-assisted suicide and that all of these laws are misguided, flawed, and dangerous. The lack of any true safeguards in PAS legislation is reason enough for us to strongly oppose such future bills in Maryland. However, this article makes clear that there are many other reasons why states should never adopt these proposals.

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