Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Death With Dignity?

In the whole assisted suicide debate, there is an ever looming question. If you can fill out an advanced directive on how you want to be treated as you near death, why is there a need for assisted suicide? They are having a discussion in Washington as they prepare to vote for this in November. Many from the disability community see this as a slippery slope, which will be extremely dangerous for them. I definitely see their point. How about you? From the Seattle Times...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008 - Page updated at 06:39 AM

Guest columnist

Providing an end-of-life path that rejects pain or poison

By Paul Malley

Special to The Times


Aging with Dignity President Paul Malley

There's an old story about how Abraham Lincoln would quiz visitors to the White House. Lincoln would ask, "How many legs does a sheep have if you call its tail a leg?" "Five," most visitors would reply. "You are mistaken," Lincoln would say, "because calling a tail a leg does not make it so." They didn't call him "Honest Abe" for nothing.

The citizens of Washington deserve similar straight talk as they consider the consequences of Initiative 1000 and the legalization of physician-assisted suicide. Instead, I-1000 would ban further use of the term, presumably in favor of euphemisms such as "death with dignity," "self-deliverance," "a life-affirming choice," "aid in dying" and " 'self'-preservation," which are among several of the more flowery terms already in use. Meanwhile, the dreary old Hemlock Society has itself undergone a beauty makeover, re-branded as "Compassion and Choices." Who can be against choice and compassion?

On the merits of the issue, both sides already have dug in. The I-1000 proponents argue the decision is a personal one, while church and pro-life groups point out that life is God-given and that physician-assisted suicide is not compassionate and is morally wrong. Medical groups claim physician-assisted suicide will ultimately corrupt the entire health-care system by undermining the doctor-patient relationship. Disability-rights groups have long warned that any "right to die" will soon morph into a "duty to die" for them.

Oddly, both sides in the debate cite the Oregon experience. One side boasts it has worked well for 10 years, while the other argues it has resulted in the state's taxpayer-funded health-care system denying payment for cancer-treatment drugs but approving payment for suicide drugs.

Both sides could be missing what is often at the root of the argument in the first place. People rightly worry about being in pain and losing control in their lives when seriously ill. They fear being placed on an impersonal medical "conveyor belt," surrounded by strangers and hooked up to tubes. They especially fear losing their individuality and human dignity at the very time it's most important to them.

This could explain why more Americans are completing detailed advance directives, such as the Five Wishes living will, which is legally sufficient in Washington and distributed by more than 350 organizations statewide. It allows those who complete it to clearly state in their own words, not in medical or legal jargon, what kind of treatment they would or wouldn't want in the event they become seriously ill and can't speak for themselves.

This "third path" rejects the false choice of pain or poison, and instead empowers users to take control over how they wish to be treated.

The citizens of Washington deserve an open and honest debate over I-1000, one that doesn't employ verbal sleight of hand to obscure the very real life-and-death issues at stake.

Paul Malley is president of Aging with Dignity, a national nonprofit organization and creator of the Five Wishes living will.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Didja know that "Five Wishes" is a stealth Catholic document?

“Five Wishes” should come with a warning label. Why? Because the religious dogma imbedded in it could actually subvert your wishes when the time comes.

In 1997 James Towey started a Florida organization called “Aging with Dignity” and wrote “Five Wishes.” Five Wishes is a wonderful form in many ways, but fair warning is in order.

Wish Number 2, “My Wish For the Kind of Medical Treatment I Want Or Don’t Want,” includes the general instruction “I do not want anything done or omitted by my doctors or nurses with the intention of taking my life” (italics original).

Then the form goes on to list medical interventions that keep a person alive and allows you to check the box, “I do not want life-support treatment.” Thus it creates internal conflict within the document.

Even if you check the “do not want life-support” box, a hospital or doctor could object that stopping life support would “intend” death and the form you signed expressly prohibits that. What a confusing mess that could create!

My advice --- use your own state form. Or, you can cross out the parts of The Five Wishes form that you don’t agree with.

Congratulations. You have just transformed a fish back into your own, personal end-of-life wish.