Source: The Oklahoman
THE issue of assisted suicide is slowly becoming a cause du jour among some political activists, but it continues to face strong — and often bipartisan — resistance. That’s comforting indication that some issues transcend partisan divisions, and that lawmakers can still view issues through a lens other than party loyalty.
The latest example comes from New Mexico, where assisted suicide legislation was advanced this year. One bill passed out of committee but was defeated by a 22-20 vote on the Senate floor. Those voting in opposition included seven Democrats and 15 Republicans.
The push to legalize assisted suicide came after the New Mexico Supreme Court upheld a law banning the practice last year.
“If we were to recognize an absolute, fundamental right to physician aid in dying, constitutional questions would abound regarding legislation that defined terminal illness or provided for protective procedures to assure that a patient was making an informed and independent decision,” Justice Edward Chavez wrote for the court.
The points Chavez raised are worth noting, because assisted suicide can often run counter to efforts to ensure the weak and vulnerable aren’t exploited as well as efforts to address mental illness.
Aaron Kheriaty, a psychiatrist who is director of the Program in Medical Ethics at the University of California Irvine, raised similar points when lawmakers in that state debated assisted suicide in 2015.
“The desire to end one’s life, or the request for assisted suicide, is almost always a cry for help,” Kheriaty wrote (emphasis in the original). “It is a distress signal indicating that something in the patient’s situation is not adequately being attended to — an untreated clinical depression, fear or anxiety about the future or about one’s medical condition, untreated or under-treated pain, family or relationship strain or conflict, and so on.”
He noted that 80 percent to 90 percent of suicides are associated with clinical depression or other treatable mental disorders, and stressed that that figure includes many people facing terminal illness. In other words, some people facing terminal illness no longer want to kill themselves after receiving therapy for depression.
Kheriaty also pointed out that research shows a “contagion” effect to suicide. One suicide can lead other individuals to do the same thing. That trend hit home in Edmond in 2012 when three teen boys died by suicide in a period of two weeks. There was no known connection among the boys.
At that time, Lisa Harper, development director of HeartLine, a nonprofit dedicated to suicide prevention and crisis intervention in Oklahoma, noted, “We do sometimes see it in clusters, especially when there’s media attention and some students may feel that they see someone else receiving a lot of love and memorialization after the death, and they feel like that’s a way for them to leave an impact.”
Put simply, assisted suicide can not only lead to the premature deaths of terminally ill people who may not remain suicidal if given proper treatment, but it can also inspire suicide among many who aren’t terminally ill.
It’s encouraging that those issues trouble many people from both political parties, leading to pushback against the culture of death.