The Progressive Case Against Assisted Suicide

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There are many reasons why assisted suicide should not be legalized, and many groups have taken up the fight to prevent this from happening. Because of the varied groups fighting to prevent this, it can be difficult to identify some of the political philosophies behind them. Further complicating matters is that many people who support the legalization of assisted suicide identify as progressive members of society; however, there is nothing progressive about assisted suicide.

Unfortunately, many people who so often advocate for the advancement of rights for marginalized groups and individuals facing discrimination fail to see the harm in legalizing assisted suicide. The progressive fight for protecting minority groups, combating fear and bias, equalizing healthcare and healthcare access, and advocating for mental health treatment would be severely undermined by the legalization of assisted suicide.

Legalizing assisted suicide to prevent end-of-life pain and suffering is equally misleading as it is dangerous to the population it claims to help. While a small number of people would initially be eligible, as seen in places where assisted suicide is legal, it would eventually be expanded to allow eligibility for people with non-terminal diagnoses. Today in Canada, there is no need to have a fatal or terminal condition to qualify. The law was first enacted in Canada in 2016 and required a terminal diagnosis but was amended in 2021 to include people with disabilities and chronic illnesses.

We live in a society with an inherent and often unrecognized bias against people with disabilities. While proponents of assisted suicide claim the measure is needed to address people living with terminal illnesses and who are in massive amounts of pain, studies and real-world examples show that is not the case. Among the top reasons people elect to partake in assisted suicide, pain is not even among the top five. Being less able to engage in activities, and feelings of losing autonomy, losing dignity, losing control of bodily functions, and burdening family and friends/caregivers are all reasons before pain that people opt for suicide. It does not take much to see that the real reason people would prefer dying is the fear of becoming disabled. It is regrettable, but this often stems from the belief that anyone who cannot continue to live the same life or may need assistance with daily living activities cannot live a quality and dignified life. It may take some time for people to realize they can still live fulfilling lives, although perhaps differently than before having a disability.

Sadly, in the fight against legalizing assisted suicide, people are often misled by the reasoning of proponents. Some glaring examples are the false sense of “choice” and concerns about pain. Proponents will often say that without assisted suicide, anyone who has a terminal illness will be forced to endure a long and painful end of life. This is not true. While regrettably, pain is often a factor in terminal illness; there have been medical advances to fight that pain. Patients are also not required to undergo any treatment they do not want. Patients have the right to refuse medical procedures and access pain management when conditions become extreme, up to and including palliative sedation. More importantly, patients have the right to these services at home, where they can spend their last days with loved ones. This is not a binary choice; patients have multiple options, and we must ensure that there is a system in place that guarantees they continue to have the widest range possible to support their continued care.

Unbelievably another issue that is overshadowed in the discussion of assisted suicide is suicide prevention and making sure people are given appropriate mental health help. Most suicide requests are made from places of fear and depression. It is only natural for someone who has just been told they will die prematurely to experience these emotions. It takes time for people to mentally complete the stages of understanding and come to terms with the idea that they are seriously ill, could potentially become disabled, and may die in the near future. As written, the proposed legislation does not provide enough time to fulfill this cycle. There is also nothing in assisted suicide legislation addressing new or previously unidentified mental health issues. As official reports from states where assisted suicide is legal demonstrate, mental health referrals are extremely rare.

While eligibility requires a doctor’s prognosis of six months till death, there is no limit to how quickly a patient who gets life-altering news can request life-ending medication. Exacerbating this issue is that doctors often misdiagnose short-term prognoses, which in this case, would be deadly for someone who is told they have six months to live but could actually live for years past that date. Assisted suicide would effectively negate all other treatment options and prevent the discovery of misdiagnosis or other medical mistakes.

Rarely if ever spoken by proponents, are the costs and access to healthcare. Unfortunately, it is a well-known fact that insurance companies do not always have the best interest of patients in mind. There are countless stories about people denied necessary, and in some cases, lifesaving procedures and drugs due to high costs; long-term care is no exception. When faced with the option of covering expensive long-term care and medications or a much cheaper one-time cost of life-ending medication, it will not surprise anyone that insurance companies may not cover more expensive treatment but will cover the less expensive alternative. This will undoubtedly have a greater impact on people with disabilities and older adults, who statistically are less financially secure than other groups.

Progressives say they fight to protect minority and marginalized groups, combat biases, promote healthcare equality, and expand mental health help. In many cases this is true but many times progressives fail to recognize healthcare inequity against people living with disabilities and older adults. Progressives must not support assisted suicide laws because they make second-class citizens of disabled and older individuals by effectively eliminating suicide prevention and offering suicide assistance instead. That is not compassion but discrimination.

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