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Advocates Oppose "Assisted" Suicide

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist -- or a Ph.D. economist -- to understand why those of us with chronic health care needs see a public policy allowing assisted suicide as a direct threat to our lives."
--Diane Coleman, president of the disability rights group Not Dead Yet, applauding U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's policy that effectively halts Oregon's assisted suicide law

April 6: "Murder-Suicides" Rarely Acts Of Love
April 12: Groups Condemn Dutch "Mercy Killing" Law
August 7: Fear Of Isolation Drives 'Assisted Suicides'
November 8: Disability Rights Advocates Are Pleased With Ashcroft's Decision
April 14: Oregon's Assisted Suicide Bill To Get Hearing
April 17: "Being Disabled Isn't The Same As Lacking Autonomy"
September 20: Disability Rights Advocates Critical Of Moyers Broadcast
September 20: Assisted Suicide Bill Headed For Showdown
November 29: Netherlands Okays "Mercy Killings"

Related articles:
Jack Kevorkian
Robert Wendland
Terri Schiavo

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Oregon's Assisted Suicide Bill To Get Hearing
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
April 14, 2000

WASHINGTON, DC -- On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee agreed to postpone having a vote on an assisted suicide bill until after a hearing can be held on the issue.

The bill would focus on improving treatment of pain through increased funding and education. It would also keep doctors from using federally controlled substances to aid a patient's death, and revoke the licenses to prescribe drugs to those who attempt to do so.

All 43 people who have taken their lives under the Oregon law since its first full year on the books in 1998 have used federally controlled substances to die.

The committee is expected to hold the hearing on April 25, and is expected to approve the measure on April 27.

Passage of the bill could be good news for disability rights activists who are opposed to physician-assisted suicide. Many people who have asked doctors for help in committing suicide have cited chronic pain as the primary reason. Activist groups such as Not Dead Yet have pointed out that "not wanting to be a burden", "not wanting to rely on others", and "not wanting to have their lifestyle limited" are other common reasons given.

More details on the proposed bill and hearing are available from yesterday's Salem Statesman-Journal: (Expired)

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"Being Disabled Isn't The Same As Lacking Autonomy"
April 17, 2000

"How odd it is that in a state that offers better access to community-based care than almost any other, the fear of becoming disabled has driven people to seek death," writes Ric Burger in a letter which appeared in Friday's Portland Oregonian.

"But unfortunately, we still live in a society that says better dead than disabled."

Burger, the president of Oregon's chapter of ADAPT, and a member of Not Dead Yet, points out a number of ways the disability rights movement is being resisted, including the popularization of physician assisted suicide, and the simultaneous cuts in funding for some forms of health care: (Expired)

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Disability Rights Advocates Critical Of Moyers Broadcast
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
September 20, 2000

Advocates opposed to physician-assisted suicide criticized the recent Public Broadcasting Service production of "On Our Own Terms; Moyers on Dying", for ignoring the perspective of many people with disabilities on the controversial issue.

"By telling only one side of the story on physician induced death, Moyers distorted the discussion," said Diane Coleman, founder and President of Not Dead Yet in a weekend press release, demanding PBS give equal time to opponents of physician-assisted suicide. Coleman's group has strongly opposed the practice, claiming that legalizing it would further endanger the lives and health of people with disabilities, who are already perceived as "suffering" and as being a "burden" to family and society.

Moyer's series "reinforced public fears of disability and stereotypes about disability," said Coleman. "Essentially while feigning impartiality, Moyers took a position in support of Physician Induced Death...The disability community has a different view in which health care, personal assistance services and home modifications are not luxuries but necessities which should be available to all."

Several other disability rights groups have joined Not Dead Yet in opposing physician-assisted suicide. A list of them can be found on NDY's website:

You can join discussions about the series at a website designed for PBS at:

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Assisted Suicide Bill Headed For Showdown
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
September 20, 2000

PORTLAND, OREGON--In a related story, lawmakers on both sides of the issue are gearing up for a confrontation in the U.S. Senate. In 1994, voters in Oregon approved a "Death with Dignity Act" -- the first in the nation to allow doctors to assist a patient in their suicide.

Lawmakers supporting the Pain Relief Promotion Act, which would make it a federal crime for a doctor to prescribe a barbiturate or other controlled drug for assisted suicide, are trying to get the bill to the Senate floor before it adjourns on October 6. They face heavy opposition led by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden.

"This is an important battle ground," said Portland psychiatrist Gregory Hamilton, leader of Physicians for Compassionate Care, a group of doctors opposed to physician assisted suicide. Hamilton says he is opposed to the "Death with Dignity Act", because he has seen first-hand the effects of depression on people diagnosed with a terminal illness.

"If the federal government allows Oregon to rewrite federal law, it unleashes assisted suicide in all of the states, not just Oregon," Hamilton told the Portland Oregonian:

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Netherlands Okays "Mercy Killings"
November 29, 2000

THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS--In a 104 to 40 vote, the Dutch parliament voted Tuesday to legalize euthanasia -- the practice of killing a person who is "suffering" from a terminal illness or "debilitating condition".

Critics of the decision were quick to respond.

"In the Netherlands, your life is no longer safe,'' said Bert Dorenbos of a group called Scream for Life.

Yahoo! News has this devoted the following web page to this story and the assisted suicide debate: (Expired)

One site related to the debate and to people with disabilities, which you will not find on Yahoo!'s web page, is that hosted by the disability rights group Not Dead Yet. You can access it here, however:

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"Murder-Suicides" Rarely Acts Of Love
April 6, 2001

DENVER, COLORADO--Most often when one family member has killed another family member with a disability or long-term illness, the reason given has been that they did so to end that loved one's suffering. When the murderer then attempts suicide, the scenario brings out a sense that the murderer must also have suffered to a great degree.

Recent research is finding that this is a myth.

"These are not acts of love or adoration, and they are not compassionate homicides," says Donna Cohen, professor in the University of South Florida's Department of Aging and Mental Health. "These are acts of desperation and depression, other forms of psychopathology or domestic violence."

Cohen's research focused on senior couples in which one spouse -- usually the wife -- has developed a disability. But parallels can easily be drawn to families where one member who has a disability is killed by another family member.

More details are available from this Denver Post article: (Expired)

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Groups Condemn Dutch "Mercy Killing" Law
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
April 12, 2001

THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS--Tuesday, following a 46 to 28 vote by its Senate, the Netherlands became the first nation in the world to legalize euthanasia, otherwise known as "mercy killing". The measure essentially puts a legal stamp on the practice that has been tolerated in the country for several years.

Several groups protested outside the parliament building, and organizations from around the world quickly responded by condemning the new law, which is expected to take effect within the next two weeks. "Euthanasia allowed in one sphere ... can slip out of control and embrace other groups of people -- those unwanted and disabled," Tadeusz Pieronek, a Roman Catholic Bishop in Poland, was quoted as saying.

Supporters of the measure, who claim they represent the attitudes of 90 percent of the Dutch population, say the law has very strict measures that must be followed in order for doctors to avoid criminal prosecution. Those who "receive assistance" in dying must make the request voluntarily and repeatedly over time. They must face a "future of unbearable suffering with no alternatives". The patients must also consult with a second doctor.

Disability rights advocates expressed concern and alarm regarding Tuesday's vote, pointing out that the Dutch have done little over the past several years to prosecute doctors who have failed to follow established guidelines in the past.

"The Dutch experience with euthanasia is best described as one of increasing carelessness and callousness over the years," said Stephen Drake, a research analyst with disability rights group Not Dead Yet (NDY), in a press release.

"Holland has shown us how easy it is for euthanasia to become institutionalized and routine," added NDY Board member Carol Cleigh. "Nonterminal disabled adults and infants are euthanized routinely in Holland, often without consent."

Several disability rights groups have been concerned about the popularity and acceptance of so-called "assisted suicide" and "mercy killings". Making euthanasia legal would essentially make it "open season" on people with disabilities -- especially during a time when funds for medical care and treatment are being limited, and when people who have disabilities continue to be considered a "burden" to society and their families.

The news release from Not Dead Yet included the following groups as having taken formal positions against euthanasia and "assisted suicide":
-- American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today (ADAPT)
-- Association of Rural Independent Living (APRIL)
-- Disability Rights and Education Fund (DREDF)
-- Justice For All
-- National Council on Disability
-- National Spinal Cord Injury Association
-- World Association of Persons with Disabilities
-- World Institute on Disability

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Fear Of Isolation Drives 'Assisted Suicides'
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
August 7, 2001

LONDON, ENGLAND--Over the last few years, groups like Not Dead Yet that oppose legalizing euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, have suggested that people choose such deaths, not because they are afraid they will suffer from pain, but because they are afraid of becoming dependent on others.

A study published last week in the medical journal Lancet goes a step further. It suggests that patients consider assisted suicide as a way to limit a "loss of self" brought on by a perceived loss of community.

In the study, HIV/AIDS patients were interviewed about their feelings regarding assisted suicide. Those who responded that they had considered that form of death, said they felt it was a way to limit "loss of self". This loss of self resulted not only from their symptoms and decreased physical functioning, but also from a loss of community, and the patient's "inability to initiate and maintain personal relationships".

Put simply, they would rather die than face isolation and loneliness.

"The complexity of loss of self suggests why simpler explanations, such as pain, depression, or high-control personality, each fail as individual explanations for the desire for assisted suicide," wrote Anthony L. Back and Robert A. Pearlman, of the University of Washington, in the accompanying commentary.

Researchers added that places where physician-assisted suicide is legal, such as the Netherlands, a patient's sense of isolation and loss of self is rarely taken into consideration.

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Disability Rights Advocates Are Pleased With Ashcroft's Decision
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
November 8, 2001

WASHINGTON, DC--On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft detailed his new drug enforcement policy that would essentially stop Oregon's four-year-old physician assisted suicide law. His policy could be implemented as early as the end of this week.

In a memo to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Ashcroft interpreted the U.S. Controlled Substances Act as prohibiting doctors from prescribing lethal doses of controlled drugs -- in this case barbiturates -- to patients seeking help in committing suicide. Oregon's law could stay on the books, but doctors would effectively be kept from acting on it.

Members of the disability rights group Not Dead Yet, which has actively opposed Oregon's law, were quick to applaud Ashcroft's decision.

"We have condemned assisted suicide from the beginning as devaluing people with severe illnesses and disabilities by agreeing with their suicides, and even implying that some of us may have a duty to die," said Not Dead Yet president Diane Coleman in a press release.

"This is true whether the disabilities are terminal or non-terminal in nature. Everyone deserves the equal protection of the law."

"In fact, we've always felt that the Oregon law is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and would have liked to see the Department of Justice raise that as grounds for federal civil rights intervention" she added.

Oregon lawmakers and supporters of the law condemned Ashcroft's decision as an "unprecedented intrusion" into how the state handles medical practices.

On Wednesday, Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers filed suit asking a federal court to block the DEA from implementing Ashcroft's policy.

Here are two related stories from the Portland Oregonian:

This link should take you to Not Dead Yet's statement:

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