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Members Introduce Bipartisan Legislation on the Dangers of Legalizing Physician-Assisted Suicide

Washington, September 27, 2017 | Hailey Sadler (202-225-3164)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH), along with Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA), Rep. Andy Harris, M.D. (R-MD), Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA), Rep. Darin LaHood (R-IL), Rep. James Langevin (D-RI), Rep. Ralph Abraham, M.D. (R-LA), Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-PA), and Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY) introduced H. Con. Res. 80, expressing the sense of Congress that legalizing physician-assisted suicide puts the most vulnerable of our society at risk of deadly harm and undermines the integrity of America’s healthcare system. They issued the following joint statement: 

“Protecting the vulnerable and providing quality care for all patients are cornerstones of any good healthcare system. Included in that is providing comfort and care for those facing the heart-wrenching challenges of dealing with a potentially terminal illness. In some cases, this commitment to fighting for the best care – even in the face of the most deadly diseases – can result in new and innovative cures, offering the chance of recovery for both the patient and for others suffering in the future. In other cases, it is simply a question of offering end-of-life comfort and support.

Physician-assisted suicide, however, does the opposite. It undermines a key safeguard that protects our nation’s most vulnerable citizens, including the elderly, people with disabilities, and people experiencing psychiatric diagnoses. Americans deserve better.

We will continue to defend every human being’s inherent dignity, and work to ensure patients facing the end of their lives have access to the best quality and most comprehensive medical care possible, including palliative, in-home, or hospice care, tailored to their individual needs. When governments support, encourage, or facilitate suicide – whether assisted by physicians or others – we devalue our fellow citizens, our fellow human beings. That should not be who we are."

Full text of the resolution is available here.

Nonpartisan patients’ rights and disability rights advocacy organizations across the country have spoken out in strong support of this bipartisan resolution, including:

Patients Rights Action Fund: “Many do not realize that people battling terminal illness, people with disabilities and others are inadvertently targeted by the legalization of assisted suicide. I am grateful to Congressmen Correa, Vargas, Wenstrup and all of the other cosponsors for introducing this Sense of Congress resolution,” said J.J. Hanson, President and a terminal brain cancer patient. “This bill brings attention to this important issue and takes a big step toward protecting me and so many others from a death-too-soon.”

National Council on Independent Living: “Our society places a high value on physical appearance and ability, and stigmatizes significant disability. It's no surprise that those of us who grew up able-bodied and then became disabled might initially see disability as a huge loss of one’s former dreams and physical abilities,” said Kelly Buckland, Executive Director. “When someone is first hit with this, they may feel they’d be better off dead. As one struggles to get basic needs met, some people feel worn down. If assisted suicide had been legal in the past, even if it were supposedly only for those with “terminal” conditions, I might not be here today. I’m grateful that assisted suicide was not legal back then, and I'm committed to keeping it that way. This is an important reason why the National Council on Independent Living opposes assisted suicide laws. NCIL is a leader in the disability rights movement, our political struggle for equal rights. And, among other things, equal rights include equal suicide prevention.”

Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF): “Where assisted suicide is legal, some people’s lives will be ended without their consent, through mistakes and abuse. No safeguards have ever been enacted or even proposed that can prevent this outcome, which can never be undone,” said Marilyn Golden, Senior Policy Analyst. “The so-called safeguards are very weak, and the lack of oversight hides these dangers from public view. Moreover, assisted suicide laws are a prescription for elder abuse and abuse of people with disabilities. Supporters of assisted suicide say such laws won’t affect disabled people—but they will, whether or not they realize it. But there is a legal alternative: anyone dying in discomfort may legally receive palliative sedation. Under these circumstances, assisted suicide is not real choice, but a phony form of freedom.”

ADAPT: “Disabled people and seniors who need assistance with everyday tasks like dressing and bathing want the choice to get those services at home and to have control over how they’re delivered. We do not want to be forced into a nursing facility, nor forced to live in poverty to qualify. Unfortunately, that choice is not a reality for most of us. In states that have legalized assisted suicide, Oregon data shows, over a third of those who request assistance to die do so because of “feelings of being a burden” and over 90% cite “loss of autonomy” as a factor,” said Stephanie Woodward, Director of Advocacy. “If the only alternative to death is poverty and segregation in nursing facilities, assisted suicide is not a “choice.” Society is failing to ensure access to consumer controlled long-term services. The last thing we need in this time of draconian budget cuts in Medicaid is the legalization of assisted suicide laws, because the untimely deaths of disabled Americans can easily be seen as a cost saving answer.

Not Dead Yet: "As a national, secular, social justice organization, Not Dead Yet strongly supports this bipartisan effort to speak truth to the many myths about legalized assisted suicide," said Diane Coleman, President/CEO. "As Americans with disabilities, we are on the front lines of the nation's health care system that often devalues old, ill, and disabled people. So we are grateful for this Sense of Congress that explains the dangers of mistake, coercion, and abuse under a public policy of assisted suicide."

Physicians for Compassionate Care Education Fund:  "Empowering doctors to assist patients in killing themselves has led to an inevitable erosion of trust in the motives of doctors, health care institutions, and insurers.  This has been detrimental to patients, degraded the quality of medical care, and compromised the integrity of medical profession wherever assisted suicide has been legalized,” Dr. William F. Toffler, National Director. “The solution to suffering is not to end the life of the sufferer; rather society's focus at the end of life should be to alleviate suffering by improving access to hospice and palliative care whenever it is needed."