Students for Life of America (SFLA) held its annual Northeast Leadership Summit in November, providing leadership training for college pro-life groups. One of the speakers was Edward Mechmann, an attorney who is Director of Public Policy for the Archdiocese of New York.
Mechmann’s talk focused on assisted suicide, which, he said, was nothing new, even though it appears to be coming down the pike as another autonomous right like “right to choose” abortion. There have always been sick people who pleaded with doctors to put them out of their misery. To guard against requests to kill, doctors looked to the Hippocratic Oath as a source of protection. But doctors these days, he says, are under increasing pressure to do harm.
Mechmann pointed out that in our society if a person walked into a hospital claiming she wants to kill herself, nurses and doctors would begin the necessary treatment of talking her down. Why is being terminally ill different from emotional disturbance?
“The greatest suffering people feel at the end of life,” Mechmann continued, “is not physical pain,” which, doctors say, “can be managed.” Rather, “the greatest fear is abandonment, dying alone. So many times, the best answer is a simple one.” That is, patients need to get the message from loved ones and hospital staff that they remain important and valuable right up until their death. “They don’t have to kill themselves in order to die with dignity.”
The law, Mechmann insisted, must protect the principle that everyone deserves care. And in fact care is always required. We care for ourselves every day. Treatment is a specific type of care, relevant only when there is injury. Treatment is not always required. The decision to take treatment should belong to the patient, who must determine if the benefit outweighs the burden. Under assisted-suicide laws, doctors, with the consent of the patient, will decide when treatment is futile—in effect determining that a person’s quality of life is not worth preserving—and aid in killing him or her.
African-Americans have recognized a devastating consequence of the legal movement for assisted suicide. They see it, Mechmann said, as back-end eugenics: a way to get rid of the old and sick. His talk was timely, given that in November the Washington D.C. City Council passed the “Death with Dignity Act,” which would allow doctors to prescribe lethal drugs, usually around 100 pills, to mentally-sound patients who have less than six months to live. “It is really aimed at old black people,” says D.C. activist Leona Redmond. “It really is.”
The bill is now on the desk of Mayor Muriel Bowser, whose spokesperson has said the Mayor “expects it to become law.” Bowser was endorsed by Emily’s List and unsurprisingly signed a pro-abortion bill shortly after taking office; fortunately, it was struck down upon Congressional review. Thus, while Bowser is expected to sign the “Death with Dignity Act,” there is still one last hurtle: The House of Representatives could strike it down. Otherwise the District of Columbia will join Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Montana, California, and Colorado, states which have already legalized physician-assisted suicide.
No DC Suicide, an advocacy group launched after the bill was introduced in 2015, has mobilized disabilities advocates, medical professionals, and religious leaders to oppose the legislation, calling it discriminatory, flawed, and unsafe. Those already suffering from elder abuse would be ripe for coercion. Vulnerable people could have their insurance companies tell them, “We will no longer pay for your cancer treatments. But we will pay for your assisted suicide.” This is already happening.
If you live in the D.C. area, and would like to join the fight against the “Death with Dignity Act,” go to No DC Suicide’s website at http://nodcsuicide.org/.