Assisted suicide has always been an issue of white privilege (to borrow a term I generally disfavor), promoted most actively by liberal, highly educated, and very well-off, Marin County types who are already so empowered in society that they need never fear being pushed out of the lifeboat or deprived from receiving proper medical care.
Thus, it is no surprise that in California, 88 percent of those killing themselves through assisted suicide have been white. People of color, on the other hand, are not exactly standing in line for lethal prescriptions, which has the “experts” searching for reasons. From the Capitol Public Radio story:
She [geriatrician Vyjeyanthi Periyakoil] said distrust keeps many people of color from speaking with their physicians about death. These patients also tend to get diagnosed with cancer and other terminal illnesses at more advanced stages, which gives them less time to think about options…
The skewed numbers are likely due to issues of medical access and philosophical differences. Geriatrician Elana Shpall works at a mostly-Latino senior center called On Lok in San Francisco. She says most of her patients wouldn’t be interested in using the law. “We talk a lot about their end of life choices and planning for the future, and most of them say something like ‘when God wills it, it will be my time’,” she said. “Based on my population, I would say it’s a big cultural barrier.”
Legalizing lethal prescriptions has been opposed by some civil rights organizations (such as LULAC) and disability rights organizers, and has certainly not been high on the agenda list for advocates for the poor — who worry much more about guaranteeing that poor people and patients of color receive ready access to proper care than they do about dying people hastening their deaths via barbiturate overdose.
Of course, Compassion and Choices — whose leader recently said she wants to eliminate waiting periods between asking for and receiving lethal drugs — wants to increase assisted suicide among people of color:
The group has a Latino council and a Hispanic council working on raising awareness about these laws in diverse communities.
“The information that’s written right now is written primarily for a white audience,” said executive director Kim Callinan. “We need to have messages and materials that will resonate given the culture and the community we’re trying to reach, from credible messengers in that community.”
Let’s hope those communities continue to reject the assisted suicide siren song. All of our attention should be focused on improving access to hospice and palliative care for patients of every race and socioeconomic group — medical programs that are about adding quality to living — than making sure more terminally ill patients obtain poison pills with which to make themselves dead.