Second Thoughts MA is a grassroots group of disability rights advocates from Massachusetts and the region who oppose the legalization of assisted suicide as a deadly form of discrimination against disabled people. We demand social justice against laws, policies, and media messages fueled by a “better dead than disabled” mindset. We organized in 2012 to help defeat assisted suicide Ballot Question 2. High turnout among black and Latinx voters made victory certain. Since then, we have successfully advocated against three more assisted suicide bills, led a month-long campaign in 2016 against the disability euthanasia movie “Me before You,” and are now advocating against the assisted suicide bills S.1384 / H.2381 in the legislature.
Reject Assisted Suicide
Real “choice” belongs to insurers, whose business model is to delay or deny prescribed treatments, even if lifesaving. In Oregon, people can then be considered “terminal,” if you can’t afford your treatment, or if treatment stops for any reason. Legalization makes assisted suicide a “medical treatment,” a so-called “benefit” to be extended to ever more people. Assisted suicide will always be the most profitable and “cost-effective” treatment.
It is estimated that 1 in 10 Massachusetts older adults are abused every year, and quarantining under COVID-19 has only made the situation worse. Many people associate nursing homes with where you go to die, borne out by the news that 40% of all COVID-19 deaths come from nursing homes. For people living at home, nothing in the law can stop an heir or abusive caregiver from steering someone towards assisted suicide, witnessing the request, picking up the lethal dose, and even administering the drug — no witnesses are required at the death, so who would know? The Oregon law has invited every sort of abuse.
Misdiagnosis and Mistaken Prognosis
These mistakes, yearly, put 6 million Americans at risk of severe harm. S.1384 / H.2381 could make that harm lethal. Thousands of Americans “graduate” hospice every year, and 12%-15% of people diagnosed with 6 months or fewer to live will outlive their diagnosis, sometimes by decades. Oregonian Jeanette Hall wrote the Boston Globe in 2011 that after a terminal diagnosis she sought assisted suicide, but her doctor persuaded her to try more treatment. “If my doctor had believed in assisted suicide, I would be dead,” she wrote. She has now lived more than 20 years post diagnosis.
The doctors who decide who is eligible for assisted suicide are the same doctors who have been promoting Crisis Standards of Care that, in an emergency, would deny ventilators or beds to older, ill and disabled people. Ableism and racism figured in a Texas hospital’s medical killing of Black quadriplegic Michael Hickson, against the wishes of his wife and 5 children. The doctor’s “quality-of-life” justification for denying Michael treatment for COVID-19 was contradicted by a video showing the joyful connection he had with his family. Disability advocacy organizations have filed complaints with the federal Office for Civil Rights. Decision-making was arbitrarily taken from Michael’s wife, while in other cases Do Not Resuscitate orders have been placed in patient files against their wishes.
Race/Ethnicity and Social Class
As the voting results from Ballot Question 2 in 2012 show, assisted suicide pits wealthier, whiter districts against those with poorer people and people of color. For long-standing reasons, Black and Latinx people oppose assisted suicide by 2-1 margins. The four most Latinx cities in the Commonwealth – Lawrence, Chelsea, Holyoke, and Springfield – all voted strongly against Question 2. One social group’s preferences must not become a state policy that will place everyone under threat. Covid-19 is exposing the systemic racism of medicine. Black Detroit phlebotomist Deborah Gatewood was refused testing and sent home 4 times from her own hospital before succumbing to the pandemic.
Assisted suicide laws lead to the denial of suicide prevention services to seriously ill and disabled people. This violates the Americans with Disabilities Act’s Title II and Title III guarantees of equal program access for disabled people. Instead, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health promoted assisted suicide and Jack Kevorkian at its recent annual suicide prevention conference. Assisted suicide laws make depression and “feeling like a burden” into “rational” reasons for suicide. H.2381/S.1384 promote suicide as a solution to suffering, whether it’s from disability, illness, or the prejudice experienced by LGBTQ, autistic, intellectually disabled, and many young people. Suicide contagion is real and assisted suicide laws send the wrong message.
In a society full of crushing ableism, reported “end of life” concerns all have to do with negative reactions to disability: distress and shame over dependence on others, lost abilities, loss of dignity, feeling like a burden and incontinence. But no one needs to die to have dignity. We champion meaning found in mutual aid and interdependence.
Outside Influence is Unavoidable
In her New Year’s Eve 2019 ruling against a state constitutional right to die, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Mary K. Ames summed up some of the stresses that might hurry the moment when people ingest the poison.
“In such a situation, there is a greater risk that temporary anger, depression, a misunderstanding of one’s prognosis, ignorance of alternatives, financial considerations, strain on family members or significant others, or improper persuasion may impact the decision.”
If Massachusetts legalizes assisted suicide, some people’s lives will be ended without their consent, through insurance denials, mistakes and all the various forms of coercion and abuse. No safeguards have ever been enacted, or even proposed, that can prevent this outcome which can never be undone.
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