Ohioans in immense pain, suffering from terminal illness and wishing for a gentle way to shuffle off this mortal coil may no longer enlist the aid of another, lest they render that person a felon.
House Bill 470 makes knowingly assisting in a suicide a third-degree felony in Ohio, punishable by up to five years in prison. Perviously, Ohio law only permitted a court to issue an injunction against someone who helps another kill him or herself.
Six states in these united of America have legalized physician-assisted suicide. Forty-four states and the District of Columbia consider it illegal. Ohio becomes the 25th state to make assisted suicide a felony.
The measure was added into a bill requiring the licensing of palliative care facilities, establishing requirements for hospital after-care and discharge planning, and requiring the development of recommendations concerning the operation of memory care units.
The bill was sponsored by state Rep. Kirk Schuring (R-Canton) and passed with 93 yays and zero nays in the Ohio House and 31 yays and zero nays in the Ohio Senate.
Ohio Right To Life was crowing about the new law in my inbox Dec. 20.
“Ohio Right to Life thanks Governor Kasich and the Ohio General Assembly for vastly expanding protections for human life in 2016,” said Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life. “By making assisted suicide a felony, Ohio is taking a strong stand against those who prey on the vulnerable and amplifying our opposition to this horrendous practice.”
Obviously, the inclusion of this provision in the bill on palliative care made it too much of a political liability for anyone to stand up against it.
But speaking for myself, I despair. Once again, the so-called “pro-life” movement is exacting its authoritarian impulses. You see, the issue is not about being pro- or anti-life. (Does anyone know anybody, save perhaps a serial killer, who is seriously anti-life?) It’s about the freedom of choice for a patient.
Ever so often, I’ve been a medical patient, and in those times what I value most are my options. What are my options? What are the pros and cons of each of those options? What type of timeline do I have to consider my options?
Not once have I requested that my medical practitioner strip away my options and tell me instead what I must do.
Consulting with those who practice medicine, I think you’ll find them generally in agreement with the idea that patients do and should have options. Generally, those practicing medicine like to listen to their patients, to provide educated advice, and to obtain what’s known as informed consent.
They never tell a patient what they have to do, without choice. That is, until the end of life.
When a patient is dying and doesn’t want to spend his or her last two or three weeks in a hospital bed experiencing unfathomable pain, and is ready and wishes to pass away from this existence, suddenly all the ethics and morality behind the process of informed consent goes out the window. Suddenly, the patient is wrong. Suddenly, self-determination no longer matters, the patient may have no choice, and must suffer to the last.
I reject this.
Mr. Gonidakis seems to be under the cartoonish impression that there are people practicing medicine who are preying on the vulnerable, rubbing their hands together like some melodramatic villain spoiling for an opportunity to take another life. There aren’t.
What we are dealing with here are patients who know they are dying and wish to do so with dignity. What we are dealing with are healthcare workers who wish to abide by patients’ last wishes with compassion and comfort.
I point to the case of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman who had terminal brain cancer and decided to end her life with medical assistance on Nov. 1, 2014. I will let Ms. Maynard have the last, poignant words as I encourage you to pay particular attention to the emphasis she places on the importance of having a choice.
“There is not a cell in my body that is suicidal or that wants to die. I want to live. I wish there was a cure for my disease but there’s not… My glioblastoma is going to kill me, and that’s out of my control. I’ve discussed with many experts how I would die from it, and it’s a terrible, terrible way to die. Being able to chose to go with dignity is less terrifying… Right now it’s a choice that’s only available to some Americans, which is really unethical… The amount of sacrifice and change my family had to go through in order to get me legal access to Death with Dignity – changing our residency [from California to Oregon], establishing a team of doctors, having a place to live – was profound… There’s tons of Americans who don’t have time or the ability or finances [to move to a legal state] and I don’t think that’s right or fair… I believe this choice is ethical, and what makes it ethical is it is a choice. The patient can change their mind up to the last minute. I feel very protected here in Oregon.”
D.C. DeWitt is a writer and man of sport and leisure. He has also written for Government Executive’s RouteFifty.com, the National Journal’s The Hotline, and The New York Observer’s Politicker.com. He is the Associate Editor of The Athens NEWS in Athens, Ohio. DeWitt can be found on Facebook and Twitter @DC_DeWitt.