A social policy of assisted suicide is just as dangerous as the death penalty


Testimony in strong opposition to Californian Assisted Suicide Bill, AB2x 15

September 3, 2015

Members of the Finance Committee:

If you are opposed to the death penalty, I hope you will have second thoughts about legalized assisted suicide. Yes, there is a committed group of proponents who believe that assisted suicide would benefit them, and many people have stories of difficult and traumatic deaths. But compelling personal stories notwithstanding, a social policy of assisted suicide is just as dangerous as the death penalty.

We now know that many completely innocent people have been sentenced to death either through mistakes (witness misidentification, circumstantial evidence,) or abuse of the system (prosecutorial and police misconduct). Strong majorities are forming against the death penalty.

Mistakes and abuse in the medical system also sentence innocent people to death. People who are misdiagnosed (see John Norton), people who would respond to more treatment (Jeanette Hall), people who wouldn't die for years (Oregon's statistics), will be led to tragically "choose" death. And because not all families are loving or financially secure, innocent people will be bullied (Kate Cheney) or worse by abusive families and caregivers (Wendy Melcher). With thousands or even millions of dollars at stake, beneficiaries will be motivated to ensure a premature death (Thomas Middleton).

Just like the death penalty, assisted suicide exacerbates existing inequalities across race and class. People who are mentally ill, people of color, and poor people are much more likely to be sentenced to death. Assisted suicide programs have offered lethal drugs to patients with severe depression (Michael Freeland) and to people denied treatment (Barbara Wagner). Patients of color receive substandard, often deadly lack of medical care, and are the targets of educational campaigns to prepare advanced directives, give up on treatment, and enter hospice.

Assisted suicide is unique in that the leading proponents are more well-to-do, better educated and whiter than the general population. People of color oppose legalized assisted suicide (Pew Research Center on End-Of-Life), and do not participate in the legalized programs (Oregon statistics). And yet the great cost-savings potential of early death already drives much of of end-of-life policy. We poorer people are already under increasing pressure to refuse life-saving treatment (even antibiotics or temporary ventilation). For people who are already viewed as "better off dead," assisted suicide will become a recommended option.

Please think about the profound social implications of enshrining in policy the belief that sometimes it is more dignified, more respectable, to die early. Rather than aid in dying, please focus on aid in living and ending the vast inequalities that are distorting our society.

John B. Kelly

References are all searchable at the California-based Disability Rights & Education Defense Fund (DREDF) page on assisted suicide: http://dredf.org/public-policy/assisted-suicide/ .

John B. Kelly
New England Regional Director
Not Dead Yet
Boston, MA