Sen. Savino’s end-of-life bill is a prescription for abuse (commentary) |

Sen. Savino’s end-of-life bill is a prescription for abuse (commentary) |

It’s not surprising that advocates for physician-assisted suicide have seized upon the case of Brittany Maynard to advance their cause. Well-educated, well-traveled and articulate, the 29-year-old’s decision to end her life rather than wait for terminal brain cancer to take it seems, on the surface, at least, perfectly reasonable.

It also strikes many as a right every American ought to have.

In the wake of her odyssey, promoted in two compelling videos by an outfit calling itself Compassion & Choices, several states are now considering legislation patterned after Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act under which Maynard acted.

New York is one of them, as a bill, dubbed “The End of Life Options Act,” has been introduced in the state Senate by two Democrats, Staten Island’s Diane Savino and Manhattan’s Brad Hoylman.

What appears to be a thoughtful, compassionate approach to a harsh incident of human existence is, however, a prescription for abuse that imperils the most vulnerable among us, including the poor, the elderly and the disabled.

While Ms. Savino casts her bill as protecting “a basic human right,” the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously and emphatically rejected that very notion in its 1997 ruling in Washington v. Glucksberg, adding the ominous warning that physician-assisted suicide could send the nation on a Netherlands-like slide to voluntary, and perhaps even involuntary euthanasia.

Deceptive language

Like its counterparts in other states, Savino’s bill has been drafted with language and provisions designed to disguise what it really is and really does, and it’s being marketed with the same deceptiveness.

With numerous polls revealing that people are turned off by “suicide,” the bill and the press releases simply omit the word.  Even after a person takes his or her life under its terms, the legislation requires that the death certificate list the cause of death as the individual’s underlying medical condition, and not suicide.

To those same marketing ends, the role of the physician, who prescribes the lethal drugs, is portrayed as so minimal that it doesn’t even amount to “assistance” as that word is generally understood.

On the basis of this utter nonsense, its proponents claim with a straight face that the bill doesn’t  really legalize physician-assisted suicide.

Well, you know what? The next time you step on a dog turd, tell yourself it’s baked manicotti and see if it smells any better, or if it’s any easier to get off your shoes.

Like other legislative excursions into physician-assisted suicide, Savino’s legislation requires two physicians to certify the terminal nature of the individual’s illness, and two witnesses to verify the voluntariness of his or her request for life-ending drugs.

The bill’s supporters also point to another provision that makes it a Class A felony to exert “undue influence” on a person to procure his or her authorization.

Undue influence

Let’s start with the “undue influence” bit. Proving it in a will contest, a civil proceeding, is widely acknowledged to be one of the most difficult undertakings in law. So, unless a criminal defendant has been caught holding a gun to a person’s head, you can forget that Class A felony business in Savino’s bill. It’s just in there for show.

The Oregon experience also establishes that the other supposed safeguards aren’t really all that much better. Since reports relating to physician-assisted deaths are made by the  physicians themselves, their accuracy depends upon the truthfulness and evenhandedness of these very same physicians. Scan today’s headlines, note the alarming number of physicians charged with facilitating prescription drug abuse, and tell me you’re comfortable with conferring Oregon-like power on physicians in general.

Note, too, that the American Medical Association remains adamantly opposed to physician-assisted suicide, and legislation, like Savino’s bill, that would legalize it. The nation’s premier medical organization recommends instead hospice care, concluding that it’s perfectly capable of providing adequate pain control. The push for physician-assisted suicide is also opposed by virtually every major advocacy group for the disabled.

Most physicians facilitating death under Oregon’s  law are either members of or collaborate with Compassion & Choices, the successor to the now-defunct Hemlock Society. In fact, the organization admits to its active involvement in 78 percent of Oregon’s assisted deaths during the first 12 years of that state’s law, and 97 percent in 2009 alone.

Dementia patients

According to its website (, Compassion & Choices is dedicated to passing laws that would ensure “access to all end-of-life care options.”

Note the “all” because it speaks to the organization’s long-term goals. To that end,  the organization’s president, Barbara Coombs Lee, pushing her right-to-die agenda at a Connecticut forum last Oct. 9, seemed to lament that current legislative initiatives don’t extend to patients with dementia and cognitive decline.
“It’s an issue for another day,” she said, “but is no less compelling.”

In other words, if you think the Supreme Court’s concern about a Netherlands-like slide is far-fetched, think again.

Physicians for Compassionate Care Education Foundation represents hundreds of practicing physicians in Oregon who are upset with undisclosed abuses in the state’s Death with Dignity Law. They detail some of them in a paper titled  “Five Oregonians to Remember,” which is readily accessible on the Internet (

Supporters of Sen. Savino’s bill want you to think Brittany Maynard. Think instead of aberrant physicians pedaling death, overbearing relatives anxious to expedite their inheritance, and fragile, terminally ill souls, clinging to life, but wondering whether their right to die has now become a duty to so.

Then think of one more thing: Think of what the right-to-die gang will be up to next.

Source: Sen. Savino’s end-of-life bill is a prescription for abuse (commentary) |