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Fear Mongering for Assisted Suicide

Posted Mar 03 2009 3:54pm
There she goes again--meaning Compassion (Hemlock Society) and Choices head Barbara Coombs Lee--pushing the baloney that assisted suicide is only about preventing unalieviable suffering for the terminally ill. Worse, she engages in irresponsible demogoguery about proper care of dying patients. From her Huffington Post article:
Let's be clear. The policies on end-of-life decisions in every state except Oregon, Washington and Montana are merciless and irrational. Dying patients are abandoned to their agonies and any talk of assistance in their dying occurs in hushed, confused tones. A decent society must do better.
Well, that's not only fear mongering of the worst kind, but it is also a slander to the good work of hospice professionals, who most definitely do not abandon patients "to their agonies." Moreover, it completely glosses over the important public policy reasons for resisting legalized assisted suicide as well as the real experience of Oregon, touted by Coombs Lee in other venues, where patients commit assisted suicide for reasons such as worries about being a burden, fear of losing dignity, or worries about losing the ability to engage in enjoyable activities. These are important existential issues that often require professional intervention to alleviate. But assisted suicide interferes with that process, and hence, proper hospice care, by definition. And, in fact, patients receive lethal prescriptions in Oregon who are not experiencing significant symptoms.

Plus, C and C believes that unbearable agony is whatever the patient says it is, meaning that there are no principled standards in this regard that can apply. Plus, the Oregon guidelines are often not followed, as exposed by Kathleen Foley, the country's most prominent palliative care physician, and psychiatrist Herbert Hendin, an expert on suicide prevention. Plus, about Montana, which Coombs Lee also mentions, C and C's Kathryn Tucker has opposed the state enacting many of the very guidelines that Coombs Lee claims protect patients in Oregon and Washington.

This piece is a defensive one that seeks to put some distance between C and C and Final Exit Network, due to the recent arrests. It might work, but it shouldn't. It is worth noting that Coombs Lee never condemns FEN in her article. More to the point, FEN is as mainstream in assisted suicide advocacy as is Compassion and Choices. Where they really differ is in tactics. In this regard, Coombs Lee has the more cagey approach, I think, but FEN the more honest.
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