Death. With the election now over and everyone having settled back into their everyday levels of political interest, I figured now was a good time to bring up death. Not random death. Specific Death.
Here in Massachusetts this year there were 3 major ballot* questions up for voting. One was about cars: that one passed. Another was medical weed: that one was passed around in a circle until everyone got hungry. And the most contentious one was Question 2 the, "Death With Dignity" provision. It stated that anyone who had less than 6 months to live, who was of sound mind, and who asked--verbally and in writing--for the prescription twice with each time separated by 15 days, could be prescribed a bottle of 100 Seconal capsules which they would then have to open and empty into a full glass of water, then drink the water, then die.
I got way behind this ticket. The WeednDeath ticket. I got behind them on Twitter and on my ancient nemesis, Facebook. I even mentioned it on my real life identity Facebook page.
Weed won, Death lost. I was flabbergasted. I really thought death had it sown up, but I was wrong.
A lot of groups, medical and otherwise, came out against it. I'll quote one, the American Academy of Neurology:
"[I]t has long been understood that some actions taken to relieve suffering might also have the effect of hastening death; such actions have traditionally been regarded as morally and ethically permissible as long as the intent of the physician has been to relieve suffering and not to directly cause the patient's death."
So if you're dying and you want the right to end your life sooner rather than somewhat later then it's, "No, sorry. We'll kill you slow, but not quick. It's against our morals."
I also don't understand why one precludes the other. If we're really interested in easing the suffering of the terminally ill, it seems both logical and compassionate to allow them to float around in an opiate utopia until the day they wake-up and decide they've had enough of this shit, bring on the pills.
There was also the Massachusetts Medical Society. They worried that the person who was asked to be the "witness to the patient's signed request could also be an heir." Nice to know the Mass. Medical Society has that dark a view of human nature. It's kind of surprising they don't want us all dead, with that outlook. Besides, if the patient is of sound mind, it doesn't matter.
They also state that "assisted suicide is not necessary to improve the quality of life at the end of life." Thanks for the unsubstantiated opinion there, scientific body. And also the wording of that statement is wonderful. If it's the end of life, then that means it's death. I'm pretty sure dying greatly improves the quality of one's death.
My favorite part of the Mass. Med Society's platform against the provision was that, "Doctors should not participate in assisted suicide." No reason, just because. So there and nyah.
Then there was The Western Massachusetts Pharmacists society. Sounds like a fun group. Their reason was pretty much just "because it's not helpful." Oh yeah?
I can understand being a pharmacist and being uncomfortable with dispensing this kind of drug. I can also understand keeping your mouth shut and doing your fucking job. Besides, there is no knowing if the drug was going to be dispensed at your local Walgreen's. Unlikely considering the people who need it will literally be on their death beds rather than standing in line behind the guy with the restless leg syndrome.
It really comes down to three things, this unwillingness to allow people a basic human right: Money religion, and the American family myth. Hospitals and pharmaceutical companies make a lot of money (Big Pharma: "We heart prolonged agony") off of keeping people alive just a wee bit longer. And everyone knows from The Passion of The Christ, Jesus is waaaay into suffering.
The provision was ahead in the polls for the longest time, too. Then a series of misleading commercials (By the way, is the word misleading still necessary these days when you're talking about commercials or do we all assume now that that is the norm?) financed by a ton of money mostly from out-of-state Catholic Dioceses helped to turn the tide. Big Jesus.
Some people said it was because there was no provision in the bill for alerting families as to the patient's decision. But come now, fuck family. If you've got less than six months to live and you don't want to play out your time suspended high above your bed in a thick, dark, morphine cloud with the hopes that you'll get three extra months to watch from afar as your loved ones file in to cry on your hospital sheets or stay away because they just can't handle it well, I'm cool with that. Not to mention those who don't have families anyway.
There was also some mention made that a psychiatric evaluation wasn't required. And that is true, technically. But what was required was a patient who "would have to be an adult resident who is medically determined to be mentally capable of making and communicating health care decisions."
My guess, and it is merely the humble guess of a humble non-medical professional, is that most doctors would seek a psychiatric consult before they moved forward with the prescription. Could be that I'm wrong and that doctors all over the Bay State would be jauntily signing their patients lives away, ignoring both the moral quandary and the probable malpractice suit that would result in assisting the suicide of someone who right before they took the medication had been screaming how they, "needed the red pills right away" because their name was "Neo" and they were the "Chosen One."
Since a similar law was passed in Oregon in 1997, less than a thousand people have requested the pills and only about 600 actually took them. There is no panic here. No slippery slope. No sudden, giant, statistically significant uptick in the number of people who die slightly sooner than they were supposed to. There is just choice, human rights, and the legions of assholes who stand against them. Better luck next year.
*There were 5 questions total, but two of them were rhetorical.