Opponents of Death with Dignity are at it again. Like they did in Oregon in 1994 and 1997 and in Washington in 2008, they’re running an enormous smear campaign centered around lies and half-truths to scare people away from end-of-life care policy reform. Don’t be fooled. These laws have been in effect in two states—15 years in Oregon, no less—and there’s not been a single incident to back up any of their claims.
They rely on lies because we live in a country with separation of church and state, and they know they can’t convince people to go along with their true reason for being against these laws—their own religious beliefs. If there’s any doubt about the source of their objection, check out the largest backers of the opponents in Massachusetts. Two of them, the American Family Association and the American Principles Project, are fringe, anti-gay groups, and the bulk of the rest of the donations came from Catholic Dioceses throughout the US.
If you haven’t caught their misdirection attempts, here are some of the highlights from the recent efforts in Massachusetts:
- Fear tactic: Doctors can’t accurately predict when a patient will die.
Truth: The prognosis of six months or fewer isn’t only based on the word of one doctor, under the law the terminal diagnosis must be confirmed by a second doctor as well. It is true studies have found doctors are sometimes inaccurate in estimating how quickly an illness will kill someone, but the vast majority of the time doctors overestimate survival, not the other way around like our opponents are suggesting. They are intentionally distorting the outcome of these studies.
- Fear tactic: There isn’t a requirement for people to tell their families they’ve requested the medication.
Truth: According to Death with Dignity laws, the attending physician is required to “recommend that the patient notify next of kin.” We’ve moved away from a society where the government defines family for us. This law recognizes individuals have many definitions of family.
- Fear tactic: There’s no required psychological evaluation.
Truth: It’s completely inaccurate to suggest there are no psychological evaluations. Both the attending and consulting physicians must attest there is no indication of depression or mental illness impairing decision-making. If there are any symptoms, the patient must be referred for a psychological evaluation. This fear tactic assumes all people who’ve been given a terminal diagnosis also suffer from mental illness.
- Fear tactic: Patients who request the medication might not talk to hospice and palliative care professionals.
Truth: This is a whopper! All patients who request the medication must be informed about hospice and palliative care. And, the vast majority of people who’ve requested the medication allowed under the Death with Dignity Acts in Oregon and Washington are enrolled in hospice (97% in Oregon and 83% in Washington) when they take the medication. This is much higher than the general population’s use of hospice care. The exact language from the law is: the attending physician must discuss all “feasible alternatives including, but not limited to, comfort care, hospice care, and pain control” to ensure the patient is making an informed decision.
In a telling moment in a recent televised debate, the debate moderator asked Rosanne Meade, the chairperson of a group working against the Massachusetts Death with Dignity initiative, if all the additional safeguards they’re asking for were included in the law, “would you philosophically still be opposed to this?” Meade refused to answer the question. Why? Like others in Meade’s camp, she wouldn’t support this law no matter how many restrictions the opponents might add. She wants voters to agree with her personal religious views, and in our country, no one’s personal beliefs should dictate laws.
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