In these times of sharp party division in Congress, any bipartisan agreement warrants particular attention. One such bipartisan resolution introduced this week is especially noteworthy since it deals with a hot-button issue — the legalization of assisted suicide.
H.Con.Res. 80, a resolution introduced on Tuesday, responds to recent attempts to legalize assisted suicide by bringing to light the consequences of so-called “death with dignity” bills. Its purpose is summarized as follows:
Expressing the sense of the Congress that assisted suicide (sometimes referred to as death with dignity, end-of-life options, aid-in-dying, or similar phrases) puts everyone, including those most vulnerable, at risk of deadly harm and undermines the integrity of the health care system.
The resolution addresses 22 findings which led its sponsors to feel the need to make known their views on assisted suicide. Some of the most compelling points include:
- The legalization of assisted suicide would undermine longstanding suicide prevention programs.
- Assisted suicide disproportionately targets certain groups of people, including the elderly, the depressed, the disabled, and the poor.
- The Supreme Court has ruled twice that there is no constitutional right to assisted suicide.
- Congress passed nearly unanimously and President Clinton signed into law a bill prohibiting the use of federal funds to support assisted suicide.
- Over 30 states have rejected over 200 attempts to legalize assisted suicide in the past 23 years.
- The overwhelming majority of patients considering suicide suffer from depression.
- The required six-month-or-less life expectancy is extremely difficult to predict, even by the most experienced doctors.
- Lethal medications are far less costly than many life-saving treatments, and insurers have denied coverage for life-saving treatments, thereby restricting treatment options, especially for the disadvantaged.
On account of these facts, five Republicans and five Democrats joined forces to introduce the resolution on Tuesday, led by Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio). Wenstrup, who used to work as a physician before being elected to Congress, expressed concern that government support of suicide, whether assisted by physicians or otherwise, would result in the devaluing of human life. He described the resolution as a necessary tool to give a “voice to those most at risk.” “The dignity of human life has carried me through my career. This is a bipartisan resolution [because] assisted suicide hurts everyone,” Wenstrup added.
J.J. Hanson, a terminally ill brain cancer patient and the president of the Patients Rights Action Fund, was present at the press conference and wrote an article the next day in The Hill voicing his support of the resolution:
When assisted suicide becomes accepted public policy it threatens the lives of everyone, especially the poor, elderly, mentally ill, disabled, and terminally ill. Why? Well, for starters, abuse is unavoidable and doctors are fallible. Assisted suicide policy also injects government insurers and private insurance companies with financial incentives into every single person’s end of life decisions.
Hanson also mentioned several cases of patients who have been denied coverage for life-sustaining treatment and only given the option of less expensive assisted suicide drugs instead. “It is no surprise that insurance providers would act on financial incentives and take the cheaper option every time,” he wrote.
It is because of these and many other dangerous consequences that there is a broad coalition of organizations behind the bipartisan resolution opposing the legalization of assisted suicide. Medical associations, groups that advocate for persons with disabilities and the elderly, as well as advocates for the terminally ill all oppose assisted suicide.
It is time to come together as a nation to reject assisted suicide policy and protect the vulnerable, because one day you might be among them.
As Hanson pointed out, it is in everyone’s best interest to oppose efforts to legalize assisted suicide. So far this year, 23 states have already done so by rejecting death with dignity bills. Although non-binding, the introduction of this new resolution in Congress shows that there is bipartisan agreement at the federal level also to oppose the legalization of a practice which puts everyone, but especially the most vulnerable, at risk.