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This Truly is Assisted Suicide

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With the Iowa State Legislature likely to debate legislation in 2017 that would legalize physician-assisted suicide, the state’s largest newspaper, the Des Moines Register, thoroughly examined how the practice of PAS plays out in states where it is legal. What they found is not surprising: the implementation of PAS is nothing like Compassion & Choices claims. There are serious abuses of so-called “safeguards” in the law, and a lack of real record keeping. Together, these examples are more proof that Compassion & Choices is misleading state legislators about the true impact of these bills.

The primary focus of the article is about one of the first patients in California to use its “Death with Dignity” law. The patient’s experience with PAS, as the article examines, highlights how “safeguards” in the law can easily be ignored or circumvented leading to abuse. We wrote about this same case earlier this year arguing that the positive media coverage of her death is glorifying suicide. What we did not mention at the time, which the Des Moines Register article focuses on, is that this patient did not self-administer the lethal drugs, instead having her friends hold the cup and help her drink it.  Where the Register takes great pains to consider whether this violates the law’s language requiring a patient to “self-administer”, it is 100% clear to us that it does violate California law.

In theory, the “self-administer” requirement of the law is perhaps the most important safeguard. This provision is the first line of protection to prevent direct abuse of disabled and vulnerable patients. In practice, as the article notes, even licensed physicians are ignoring this “safeguard” when they see fit. How is holding a cup full of lethal drugs for an ALS patient unable to hold it on her own, and  then helping her drink it, different than holding a cup of lethal drugs and administering to an incapacitated person or a disabled person who cannot stop it? This truly is assisted suicide.

There’s a reason why the “self-administer” language is included in these laws and it is held up as a critical safeguard. But if it’s not enforced 100% of the time, what’s the point?

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