Connecticut Suicide Prevention Plan Includes Concerns About Disability & Assisted Suicide

This article was published on the Not Dead Yet website on November 18, 2015.

Stephen Mendelsohn

Stephen Mendelsohn

By Stephen Mendelsohn, a leader of the disability rights group Second Thoughts Connecticut

This is likely a first from the mainstream suicide prevention community: The Connecticut Suicide Advisory Board (CTSAB) recognizes that legalizing assisted suicide encourages people with disabilities to commit suicide. Here’s the relevant excerpt from the State of Connecticut Suicide Prevention Plan 2020 at p. 43, 44:

People with Chronic Health Conditions and Disabilities 
Living with chronic or terminal physical conditions can place significant stress on individuals and families. As with all challenges, individual responses will vary. Cancer, degenerative diseases of the nervous system, traumatic injuries of the central nervous system, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, chronic kidney disease, arthritis and asthma are known to elevate the risk of mental illness, particularly depression and anxiety disorders. 
In these situations, integrated medical and behavioral approaches are critical for regularly assessing for suicidality. Disability-specific risk factors include: a new disability or change in existing disability; difficulties navigating social and financial services; stress of chronic stigma and discrimination; loss or threat of loss of independent living; and institutionalization or hospitalization. 
Until recently, the CTSAB was considering assisted suicide of the terminally ill as a separate issue from suicide prevention. The active disability community in Connecticut, however, has been vocal on the need for suicide prevention services for people with disabilities. There may be unintended consequences of assisted suicide legislation on people with disabilities. Bill Peace (2012)** writes that “Many assume that disability is a fate worse than death. So we admire people with a disability who want to die, and we shake our collective heads in confusion when they want to live.” 
People with disabilities have a right to responsive suicide prevention services. The CTSAB intends to continue to explore the needs of the disability community for such services.

Link to the full article

Mary Karner: Why my mother, who just died from brain cancer, opposed assisted suicide

By Alex Schadenberg, International Chair, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Yesterday was a terrible day for those who believe in true dignity and oppose assisted suicide. Governor Jerry Brown signed the California assisted suicide bill into law.

The California assisted suicide bill passed in a subversive legislative process. The assisted suicide bill originally stalled in the State Assembly Health Committee. Then the assisted suicide bill re-appeared in a special session that Governor Brown called to examine the health care funding shortfall. In the meantime, the governing caucus re-arranged the committee members to ensure that the assisted suicide bill would receive committee support. Therefore the assisted suicide bill was passed in a two-week session without the scrutiny of other legislation. Governor Brown signed the bill into law, enabling California doctors to prescribe lethal doses for suicide to their patients who are living in a low time of their life.

Maggie Karner

Maggie Karner

But today, the Federalist published a poignant and personal letter by Mary Karner, a nurse and the daughter of Maggie Karner titled: My Mom Just Died Of Brain Cancer, Here's Why She Opposed Assisted Suicide.

I admired Maggie Karner for her ability to express her opposition to assisted suicide and her daughter appears to have inherited this gift. Mary Karner wrote:

I’ve performed CPR till I thought my arms would fall off to keep blood pumping through a child’s body. I’ve administered life-saving medication to a patient having a stroke and seen the joy on his face when he regained his speech. I’ve had a patient fall through a ceiling onto another patient (I can’t even make that up.) I’ve held the hand of patients as they’ve taken their last breath, and I’ve hugged family members so tight I couldn’t breathe. I really thought I’d seen it all. 
And then last week, my mom died. She had a glioblastoma brain tumor. I knew all about it, even cared for patients with her same diagnosis. I knew what was going to happen. But no matter how much I thought I was ready, I wasn’t. Death stings. And my beautiful, 52-year-old mother’s grave is freshly dug. 
But my mom’s name was Dr. Maggie Karner. And she was the textbook definition of awesome. Don’t take my word for it, Google her. She devoted her entire life to helping others... I’m not sure I’ve ever heard my mom speak more passionately then when she was talking about the word “mercy.” And that’s why my mom used her last days on Earth to campaign against a very dangerous use of that word. A “merciful death” some would call it, or a “right to die.” 
My mom is most famous for a YouTube video that went viral entitled “A Letter to Brittany Maynard.” In the video my mom pleaded with Brittany, who had the same diagnosis, not to commit assisted suicide. Unfortunately, Brittany eventually chose to end her life, but my mom never stopped advocating for life. In her words, “How long will it be before the right to die quickly devolves into the duty to die? What does this mean for all who are elderly, or disabled, or just wondering if they’ve become a burden to the family?” Even while she was receiving chemotherapy, my mom spoke at the Connecticut state house to lobby against a “right to die” bill. The bill did not pass. 

Link to the full article

New Mexico Supreme Court asked to hear assisted suicide decision

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

On August 11, the New Mexico Court of Appeals handed a defeat to the right-to-die movement by reversing an activist lower-court ruling that legalized assisted suicide. In overturning the lower court decision, the Court of Appeals upheld the assisted suicide law in New Mexico.

Yesterday the assisted suicide lobby appealed the Court of Appeals decision to the New Mexico Supreme Court.

The case argued that "aid in dying", which is also known as assisted suicide, is not prohibited by the New Mexico assisted suicide law because "aid in dying" is not assisted suicide.

The case argued, that if "aid in dying" is assisted suicide, then the New Mexico assisted suicide law is unconstitutional because it undermines the right to privacy and autonomy.

But, Aid in dying is assisted suicide and assisted suicide does not constitute medical treatment. Therefore prohibiting assisted suicide does not undermine the right to privacy or autonomy.

The case originally concerned Aja Riggs, a woman with uterine cancer, who said that she wanted to die by assisted suicide, and two doctors who were willing to prescribe lethal drugs. Riggs told the Albuqueque journal last December that she is now in remission. She is fortunate that the court did not give her an exemption to die by assisted suicide.

Since Riggs is in remission, the suicide lobby amended their claim. Now the case is based on Susan Brown, who has terminal cancer and David Bradley, who lives with ALS.

A similar case was dismissed by the Connecticut court in 2010.

Great News: The New Mexico Court of Appeals struck down the activist assisted suicide decision

Alex Schadenberg

Alex Schadenberg

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

The Washington Times reported yesterday that the New Mexico Court of Appeal overturned Nash's activist assisted suicide decision.

The New Mexico Court of Appeals handed a defeat to the right-to-die movement Tuesday by striking down a lower-court ruling establishing physician-assisted suicide.

The three-judge panel ruled 2-1 that the district court had erred when it determined that “aid in dying is a fundamental liberty interest.”

On January 13, 2014; Judge Nan Nash, of the Second Judicial District in New Mexico made an activist decision in the case Morris v New Mexico. Nash legislated from the bench giving New Mexico doctors the right to prescribe lethal drugs to assist the suicide of their patients.

The case concerned Aja Riggs, who had uterine cancer, who said that she wanted to die by assisted suicide, and two doctors who were willing to prescribe lethal drugs.

The argument in the case was based on a word game.

The case argued that "aid in dying", which is also known as assisted suicide, is not prohibited by the New Mexico assisted suicide law because "aid in dying" is not assisted suicide.

The case argued, that if "aid in dying" is assisted suicide, then the New Mexico assisted suicide law is unconstitutional because it undermines the right to privacy and autonomy.

Link to the full article

Poll Shows Little Support for Assisted Suicide and Major Concerns

Link to the PR Newswire media release on April 16, 2015.

As assisted suicide failed to pass in state legislatures across the country this year, a new Marist Poll sponsored by the Knights of Columbus found that a majority of Americans do not support assisted suicide and that strong majorities harbor deep concerns over such proposals.

Assisted suicide proposals have stalled since the start of the year in a number of states, including Connecticut, Maryland, Colorado and Nevada.

More than 6 in 10 Americans (61 percent) do not support a doctor prescribing or administering a lethal drug dose, saying that a doctor should instead only manage an illness or remove life support.

Additionally, 57 percent of Americans say they are less likely to trust a doctor who engages in assisted suicide.

Strong majorities of Americans also have deep concerns about assisted suicide, including:

  • 67 percent concerned that fewer life-saving options will be given at end of life.
  • 65 percent concerned that the elderly will be at risk in nursing homes.
  • 64 percent concerned that the depressed will be more likely to take their lives.
  • 59 percent concerned about a wrong diagnosis.
  • 55 percent concerned that the doctor could misjudge a patient's state of mind.
  • 55 percent concerned that it will become a cost-saving measure for health care decisions.
  • 54 percent concerned that patients will be pressured to take their life so as not to be a burden.

Between 4 in 10 and 6 in 10 of those who support assisted suicide also share each of these concerns.

Link to the full article

Connecticut assisted suicide bill is likely dead

By Alex Schadenberg, International Chair - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

For the past three years, the assisted suicide lobby in Connecticut has introduced an assisted suicide bill, paid lobbyists to promote the bill, and then a coalition of people opposing assisted suicide successfully defeat the bill.

Disability right group, Second Thoughts Connecticut, in coalition with other groups working in a unified manner, such as the Family Institute of Connecticut, have defeated the assisted suicide bills in Connecticut three years in a row.

An article by Daniela Altimari in the Hartford Courant states that assisted suicide bill - HB 7015 has likely died in committee again. The article quotes Michael Culhane who explains how the bill was defeated.

Link to the full article

John Kelly: Say 'no' to assisted-suicide expansion in Oregon

This article was published by Oregonlive on March 17.

John Kelly, is a director of the disability rights group Not Dead Yet and founded Second Thoughts.

John Kelly

John Kelly

Even as the Oregon-based Death with Dignity National Center and other assisted suicide proponents continue to insist that "there have been no efforts to expand either (Oregon or Washington's) law beyond their strict guidelines," here comes House Bill 3337, which would stretch the meaning of terminal illness from six months to 12 months. 

Oregon became the first state to legalize assisted suicide in part by highlighting so-called "safeguards" like the requirement that people have a "terminal disease" -- the prediction by two doctors that "within reasonable medical judgment" a person would die inside six months. But even at six months, the death knell of "terminal" was arbitrary and approximate. Studies have shown that 15 to 20 percent of the supposedly "terminally ill" outlive their prognosis, leading to our current situation whereby six-month hospice programs discharge 200,000 people yearly for living too long!

The Oregon Health Authority has participated in this "terminal" charade by not disclosing how many program participants lived longer than six months, giving instead a range of survival after the initial request for prescribed suicide. Nevertheless, every report this century has included someone who lived longer than a year -- one person living almost three years after first request. Under the new proposal, it is guaranteed that innocent people would lose years of their lives under the mistaken belief they were dying when they were not.

Link to the full article