Suicide is hard to sell. After 23 years of failed attempts to legalize assisted suicide in California, lawmakers and lobbyists may have finally found a strategy that works: They just won’t call it suicide. And on the death certificate, they’ll simply lie.
Entitled the “End of Life Option Act,” California Senate Bill 128 mandates that “the cause of death listed on an individual’s death certificate who uses aid-in-dying medication shall be the underlying terminal illness,” not the lethal dose of poison that actually caused the individual’s death. Advocates of assisted suicide coined the term “aid in dying” and concocted the rationalization that killing oneself does not qualify as suicide if you have a life expectancy of six months or less. Yet it appears that it is not palatable enough to list the preferred misnomer, “aid in dying,” as the cause of death and that the only way lawmakers and lobbyists feel they can sell self-destruction is to falsify public records.
Six previous legislative attempts, from 1994 to 2007, failed. It seems that taking care to control language does not by itself distract people from the truth that a person taking poison to hasten her death is practically the very definition of suicide. Proponents of assisted suicide feel the need to call it anything but suicide and to rationalize it, because suicide is a deeply disturbing act, which we combat through suicide-prevention programs, even going so far as to physically detain persons until they are deemed to be no longer a threat to themselves. We talk suicidal people down from ledges. Assisted suicide asks these vulnerable people if they need a push.
Proponents of assisted suicide feel the need to call it anything but suicide and to rationalize it.
To be consistent, of course, rationalizations for self-destruction cannot stop with the physically ill. Many argue that, while a terminally ill person may prefer death to continuing to live even a few more months with his physical affliction, they fail to see how those who suffer with mental illnesses may prefer death to living for years with their affliction. In the Netherlands, after many years, legal assisted suicide for the dying has evolved into death on demand, with six out of ten doctors admitting to killing a patient who was simply “tired of living.” California is approaching that slippery slope.
When Terminal Illnesses Are Not Terminal
Assisted-suicide advocates insist that a terminal diagnosis with an arbitrarily projected life expectancy of six month is the difference between assisted suicide being sanctioned as “aid in dying” or condemned as suicide. They fail to consider that some patients with terminal illnesses do not die from their diagnosed disease.
Consider this woman who, nine years ago, was given just two months to live after receiving the same diagnosis as Brittany Maynard. She continues to thrive. Had she chosen “aid in dying” on receiving her diagnosis, would that have been suicide? It certainly would have been a tragic, unnecessary loss of a human life.
Then there is Jeannette Hall, who was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma in 2000. She rejected assisted suicide at the last moment and continues to speak out against assisted suicide. Had she decided differently back then, Jeannette would not have committed suicide, under the terms of Senate Bill 128: She would have died of squamous cell carcinoma, according to her death certificate, not the lethal dose of poison she ingested. This law not only has the potential to take years from people’s lives, it has the potential to pressure them into taking their own lives when they could have beaten their illness.
California lawmakers think that even “aid in dying” is an undignified cause of death and that it should be kept out of public records. Clearly they recognize the truth of what assisted suicide is and are trying to hide it. Suicide is suicide, no matter how California lawmakers attempt to sanitize and sell it.
— Jacqueline C. Harvey, a public-policy scholar with Euthanasia Prevention Coalition International, has a Ph.D. in public administration and policy and focuses on end-of-life legislation at the state level. Follow her on Twitter @drjcharvey.