As a member of the Joint Health Care Commission, I requested a two year study on the Medical Aid in Dying legislation being adopted by a notable number of states across the country. My question was: What has been the outcome of this legislation? Is this a step that we Virginians should consider taking? The report is now online for public comment. The Commission is preparing to discuss the results and decide what the next steps, if any, may be.
I have been very disappointed in the Catholic Conference’s unrelenting mischaracterization of my request and the nature of the study as a call for physician-assisted suicide. Of course, I welcome fact-based criticism and disagreement. But opposition based upon misrepresentation of facts is not worthy of any well-respected institution, especially the Catholic Conference.
Removing the archaic legal restrictions that the government imposes on individual choices over life and death decisions is only a small wave in the inexorable, rising tide of individual freedoms. Medical Aid in Dying (MAID) legislation simply confirms that every person facing imminent death has the inherent right to terminate their life. In addition, the legislation allows medical professionals voluntarily, after a vetting process, to assist such patients by providing with lethal dose of pain medication. MAID legislation would define conditions to be met — competence, the evidence of intent, the nature of the condition, etc. — and outlines basic procedures, such as waiting periods. MAID is not identical to Physician Assisted Suicide, in which the doctor plays a more active role in administering the lethal drug or other means of death.
The most vehement opposition to MAID comes from the Catholic Church, as well as many Protestant and Muslim denominations. While the fundamental religious argument is based on dogma, opponents prefer attacks based on a litany of hypothetical procedural defects that could result in a death that they believe the deceased would rather have postponed. This focus on procedural defects defies common sense. Opponents concoct a world of bad actors and incompetent doctors driven by ulterior motives — e.g. “death panels” trying to save money — almost to the extent of bad faith.
In the real world the vast majority caregivers are motivated by respect for patient wishes and compassion for their condition. If a patient or their family hesitates in considering MAID, it’s preposterous to assert that pressure would be applied to move forward. It is certainly the case that families might object to decisions patients make and that in some cases the MAID process would go forward over family objections. But, support for individual “agency” in such cases is the essence of an individual right.
In the past physicians groups have objected to MAID legislation. Practitioners have been concerned about government interference in the doctor-patients relationship as well as the perceived pressure to violate their oaths and/or religious principles. However, as technology has magnified their ability to extend life, with little consideration of quality, the majority opinion has shifted to a position of support for MAID, so long as participation remains an individual choice of the medical professional.
While no procedural framework for MAID can be foolproof, the practical experience garnered from the eight states that have recognized this fundamental human right have demonstrated flimsy basis of procedural concerns. We are left, then with the religious and ethical questions. Personally, I doubt that God would favor practices that inflict unfathomable suffering on people during their final days. To what end? Certainly God would expect free will to apply to end-of-life choices rather than expect the government to take this choice away and inflict what amounts to a punishment. Even if this is the Church’s position, any state that imposes this fate on non-believer can only be called what it is: a theocracy.
But, we are not a theocracy. The Constitution guarantees us individual choice in these matters. Applying spurious labels with terrible connotations — like murder or suicide — in circumstances that are far more nuanced and human, is simply a disservice to public dialog and in my opinion not consistent with American values.
Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at [email protected]