Does Physician-Assisted Suicide Further Discriminate Against African Americans?

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African American residents of Washington D.C. who were interviewed last week by the Washington Post about the D.C. Council’s consideration of a bill that would legalize physician-assisted suicide are contending that physician-assisted suicide would unfairly treat minority communities in D.C. While that accusation may seem shocking at first, their perspective and reasoning is sound. In fact, even supporters of physician-assisted suicide recognize that the fear is not unfounded:

““They are afraid that somebody is going to take advantage of them the way they have been taken advantage of in the past,” said Omega Silva, the black D.C. physician working with Compassion and Choices, a national advocacy group trying to pass the legislation.”

Dr. Silva is referencing things like the Tuskegee Experiment, something that is explicitly mentioned in the article:

““Some African American residents have said the legislation reminds them of the Tuskegee experiments, in which hundreds of black men with syphilis in Alabama unwittingly participated in a 40-year federal study of the disease’s long-term effect. The men were told they were being given “free health care” and were being treated for the disorder, when in fact they were not.”

The article goes on to state:

“Many in the black community distrust the health-care system and fear that racism in life will translate into discrimination in death, said Patricia King, a Georgetown Law School professor who has written about the racial dynamics of assisted death.

“‘Historically, African Americans have not had a lot of control over their bodies, and I don’t think offering them assisted suicide is going to make them feel more autonomous,” King said.”

And while this article focuses on Washington D.C., the same dynamic and concerns arise in Maryland where 30% of the state’s population is African American according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data.

As we’ve explored before, it’s evident that African Americans, and minority communities as a whole, receive disproportionally worse healthcare and experience worst health outcomes than white populations. It’s easy to see how this could extend to end of life care and how physician-assisted suicide could further the problem.

We encourage you to share this important article to ensure that Maryland legislators understand the real risks of legalizing physician-assisted suicide.

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