A summary of the League of Women Voters meeting on Death with Dignity
By Judi Curry
The League of Women Voters has scheduled nine different discussion locations for the “Death with Dignity” topic.
On Monday. January 12th, the discussion was held at the Point Loma Library. The turn-out was disappointing to me – three men and nine women, plus the three female moderators. The discussion, although slow at first, was interesting as the small audience began to participate. The moderators were Nancy Witt, Shirley Walkoe and Jeanne Brown.
Jeanne led the discussion by handing out a statistical page of Assisted Suicide Laws by State. We found out that three states have passed legislation permitting physician-assisted suicide: – Oregon, Vermont and Washington.
Three State Supreme Courts have said that citizens of their states have the right to assisted suicide, and those states are Georgia, New Mexico and Montana. One state, Ohio, says that assisted suicide is against public policy but not a crime.
Four states criminalize assisted suicide through common law and those are Alabama, Massachusetts, North Carolina and West Virginia. Nevada, Utah and Wyoming have abolished the common law of crimes and do not have laws criminalizing assisted suicide.
Finally, there are 36 states that have laws explicitly criminalizing assisted suicide. California is one of those states.
Interestingly enough, Physician-assisted suicide is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and Luxembourg. With the exception of Switzerland, the laws confine the procedure to residents only and under strict conditions. Switzerland alone allows foreigners to come for hastened death, provided it is altruistic, not profit-making nor of evil intent.
In the ensuing discussion, it was apparent that some groups are very much opposed to assisted suicide, namely many groups that deal with the disabled.
There are some religious groups that are also opposed to the practice while there are several organized groups – the “Hemlock Society”, “Compassionate and Choices”, for example – that are in favor of the “right to die” initiatives. They hold meetings in San Diego on a regular basis. (In fact, the Hemlock Society has a meeting scheduled at the Scottish Rite Temple in Mission Valley at 1:30pm on Sunday, January 18th.)
In Oregon, in order to utilize the “right to die” law, two physicians must certify that life is terminal. It is important that there is a written Advance Health directive in the patient’s file. It should be noted that if one is in a Catholic hospital, the wishes of the patient may not be followed, for, as a rule, the Catholic Hospital does not follow directives that are in conflict with their own laws. This is not just in the state of Oregon – this is all over.
Besides the Advance Health directive, there are other types of directives available, such as a “Living Will”; a DNR – do not resuscitate directive, etc. It behooves the patient to have their wishes in writing even with everything in place, because relatives may have difficulty in having those wishes played out. It is difficult to watch your loved ones die; it is harder to say it is ok to “pull the plug.”
Once a decision about end of life has been reached, it is important to discuss that decision with the loved ones. The final decision is that of the patient; but it is a smoother path if the family is aware of the wishes and can accept them.
Also pointed out in the meeting was that AARP, at their last convention, would not allow any organization promoting “right to die” practices to have a display table on site. The convention was held in San Diego this past summer, and there were many protesting AARP’s negative reaction to this important topic.
The LWV will be meeting on February 7th, at the Mission Valley Library to set up their program planning for the coming year.
They will be discussing whether or not the League should continue their pursuit of this topic. At the meeting an Arizona study report was quoted, and if you are interested you can access it by going here.
Everyone is welcome to attend the meeting. If you would like more information or want to join the committee contact Bev Wilson.