An Orthodox Christian Understanding of Euthanasia & A Disability Rights Toolkit for Advocacy Against the Legalization of Assisted Suicide

The issue of Euthanasia may enter our lives at any time, even suddenly, as both we ourselves and our loved ones and friends are all mortal. We will die, perhaps sooner, perhaps later. And in the USA and western society in general there are strong pressures to see great suffering and choose to end it. Father Joseph Woodill, a college professor and an Orthodox Christian Parish Priest,  speaks to this matter: 

Euthanasia, Physician-Assisted Suicide, and the Pursuit of Death with Dignity, by Fr. Joseph Woodill — About Father Joseph Woodill — Also by Father Joseph Woodill

Disability Rights Toolkit for Advocacy Against Legalization of Assisted Suicide 

The weblog Not Dead Yet provides an action kit for opposing national and state law proposals which facilitate assisted suicide. It consists of seven sections:

  1. Why disability advocacy groups oppose legalizing assisted suicide
  2. Educating and organizing disability opposition
  3. Meeting with legislators and policy leaders
  4. Testifying at hearings
  5. Working with the media
  6. Conducting direct actions – leafleting, rallying
  7. Working in coalition

An Excerpt:

When speaking with a reporter, who may be focused on an individual story of someone who favors legalizing assisted suicide, remember two key points:

  • If you only consider an individual, assisted suicide laws might seem OK—but we must look broadly across society, at all the people who stand to be harmed. And there are many!
  • If assisted suicide is legal, some people’s lives will be ended without their consent, through mistakes and abuse. No safeguards have ever been enacted, or even proposed, that can prevent this outcome, which can never be undone.

Hopefully, you will have the chance to go into greater depth with reporters about the significant dangers, risks, and harms that concern us. Assisted suicide is a unique issue that breaks typical ideological boundaries and requires us to consider those potentially most vulnerable in our society—those who bear risks that are not well understood by the general public. E.g.:

  • There’s a deadly mix between our profit-driven health care system and legalizing assisted suicide, which will be the cheapest so-called treatment. In insurers deny, or even merely delay, expensive live-saving treatment, the person will be steered toward assisted suicide. Will insurers do the right thing, or the cheap thing? Direct coercion is not even necessary.
  • A similar thing happens to people with disabilities, who have often been denied treatment and care that we need, because our lives are undervalued, or people think we’re better off dead. Our community is keenly aware of these dangers.
  • Elder abuse, and abuse of people with disabilities, are a rising problem. Where assisted suicide is legal, an heir (someone who stands to inherit from the patient) or abusive caregiver may steer someone towards assisted suicide, witness the request, pick up the lethal dose, and even give the drug — no witnesses are required at the death, so who would know
  • Diagnoses of terminal illness are too often wrong, leading people to give up on treatment and  lose good years of their lives.
  • Financial and emotional pressures can also make people choose death.
  • There are no real safeguards; for example, for people with depression and psychiatric disability. Michael Freeland, with a 40-year history of major depression, got lethal drugs in Oregon. Do we want death on demand for anyone, regardless of the risk?
  • For anyone dying in discomfort, palliative sedation is legal in all 50 states, providing comfort from pain at the time of death. The patient is sedated to the point where the discomfort is relieved while the dying process takes place. Thus, today there is a legal solution to any remaining painful and uncomfortable deaths; one that does not raise the very serious hazards of legalizing assisted suicide.
  • Assisted suicide bills are defeated when people learn the facts. In 2014, they failed in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut. 
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