"Compassionate Choice Act" THE NEW NAME FOR EUTHANASIA??
The word game continues!
LIFE-OR-DEATH DECISIONS Cutting corners at end of life?
Rita L. Marker
Monday, April 11, 2005
Names can be deceiving, and in the case of California's "Compassionate Choice Act" (Assembly Bill 654), the deception can be deadly. This measure, now being considered in Sacramento, would transform the crime of assisted suicide into a "medical treatment." It would give doctors the power to prescribe lethal drug overdoses to patients for the purpose of causing death.
"Compassionate Choice Act" may sound good. But don't be fooled. Consider the following:
-- Assisted suicide could be a "choice" for the comfortably well off, but it could become the only "medical treatment" that many Californians can afford. Giving doctors the power to assist suicide should cause concern at any time, but it is downright chilling now. Cuts to Medi-Cal and other health services for the poor and disabled are looming. Millions of Californians are uninsured, and even people with medical insurance are generally in HMOs where treatment authorization often depends upon cost effectiveness. What could be more cost effective than a $100 prescription for poison?
-- AB654 would let government health programs, managed-care programs and HMOs cut costs by approving prescriptions for suicide.
-- AB654 is virtually identical to Oregon's assisted suicide law. In Oregon (the only state with a law permitting assisted suicide), both Medicaid and private insurance pay for assisted suicide. Assisted-suicide drugs cost far less than medications to make patients comfortable. AB654's supporters claim that, if the bill passes, physicians would not be able to suggest assisted suicide to their patients. That claim is false. Although the measure does not allow anyone to "coerce" or use "undue influence" to obtain a request for assisted suicide, nothing in it prohibits HMOs, insurance companies, doctors or others from encouraging assisted suicide or suggesting it to a patient.
-- Doctors could help mentally ill or depressed patients commit suicide. A referral for counseling is only necessary if, in the "opinion" of the attending or consulting physician, the patient requesting death has a "psychiatric or psychological disorder, or depression, causing impaired judgment." Even a mentally ill or depressed patient would still be eligible for assisted suicide if the counselor determines that the patient's judgment is not impaired. For the last two years in Oregon, only 5 percent of patients were referred for a psychological evaluation or counseling before receiving a prescription for assisted suicide.
-- AB 654 has no safeguards for the patient at the time the drug overdose is taken. All safeguards apply only to events leading up to the prescription's issuance. That could be months before the assisted suicide occurs. The lethal drugs could be stored over time, with no concern for public safety or patient protection. There are no provisions to insure that the patient is competent at the time the overdose is taken.
-- Accurate tracking of abuse or the number of assisted-suicide deaths would be difficult. As with Oregon's assisted-suicide law, AB654 requires that doctors report all assisted suicides to the state, but there are no penalties for not reporting. Oregon officials who are responsible for collecting the required information have acknowledged that "it is difficult, if not impossible, to detect accurately and comment on underreporting." Since all reporting comes from the very doctors who prescribe the lethal doses, the information may be fabricated. In 1999, Oregon officials in charge of formulating annual reports said doctors' reports could be a "cock and bull story." They conceded they don't know if all assisted-suicide deaths are reported and said the department "has no regulatory authority or resources to ensure compliance with the law."
-- Assisted-suicide activists could facilitate deaths of patients they have not treated. In Oregon, assisted-suicide advocacy groups claim they have been involved in the vast majority of such deaths. Additionally, activist physician Peter Rasmussen, who has acknowledged writing assisted-suicide prescriptions numbering in the double digits, admits that he spends as little as three hours in person or by telephone with new patients before writing the lethal drug prescription. Recently, Rasmussen candidly told American Medical News that "all involved in the Oregon law must recognize that we are on a slippery slope."
So, what can you do if you think the "Compassionate Choice Act" is dangerous? Tell everyone you know about it. Remember, public opinion is swayed over the dinner table, and in conversations with friends, neighbors and co- workers. Let your legislator in Sacramento know your view. Join Californians Against Assisted Suicide (http://www.ca-aas.com/). Your life and the lives of your loved ones depend on your taking action now.
Rita L. Marker is a California attorney and executive director of the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide (http://www.internationaltaskforce.org/).