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Assisted Suicide

Oregon legalized assisted suicide in 1997, and since 2009 three more states passed laws allowing it while a fourth had it mandated by a court ruling. The most recent state to legalize it was California, whose law took effect in 2016 after one of its residents, Brittany Maynard, left the state in order to use Oregon’s law in 2014. Maynard and her family gained national attention and became advocates for what they call death with dignity laws. Since then 20 more states have considered bills legalizing assisted suicide, including Utah. After Maynard’s husband visited the state in 2016, the bill’s sponsor, Representative Rebecca Chavez-Houk, vowed to continue proposing the assisted suicide bill until it passes.

What Is Assisted Suicide

While some details differ by state, assisted suicide in the states where it is legal and where bills have been proposed generally involves a physician prescribing a lethal dose of medication to a medically terminal patient. The bill proposed in Utah is patterned after Oregon’s law, and would require the patient be terminally ill and given five months or less to live, sign a form attesting they want the suicide, that two doctors would have to review the case and prescribe the lethal dose of medication, and that there be a 15 day waiting period before supplying the dose.

What Are the Arguments For Assisted Suicide

Proponents of assisted suicide make a few arguments, most notably that suicide relieves suffering in end of life situations, financial concerns from expensive medical care, and that it’s simply a matter of personal choice.

Problems With Assisted Suicide Laws

Since Utah’s proposed law is patterned after Oregon’s, it can be instructive to look at theirs and how it’s been used since it became law.

There have been a couple of notable studies conducted in Oregon since the state legalized assisted suicide. In the first, researchers surveyed families of patients that received and used suicide medication and asked them the reasons for requesting suicide. Despite what advocates have said, financial concerns and pain relief were ranked near the bottom. At the top was wanting to control the circumstances of death.

In 2008 the medical journal The BMJ published a study of Oregon’s assisted suicide law. Its authors decided to study the prevalence of depression in patients requesting suicide because other research has shown that eighty percent of cancer patients who commit suicide have a mood disorder. The BMJ authors found that despite protections written into the law, Oregon doctors who provide assisted suicide services aren’t detecting mood disorders like depression enough and therefore patients influenced by depression are requesting, and receiving, life ending drugs. The problems with this are obvious - patients are being influenced to end their lives because of an entirely treatable mood disorder rather than an untreatable, terminal disease. Tragically, in 2014, 105 patients died under Oregon’s assisted suicide law, but only 3 were referred for a psychological exam.

A much used argument for legalizing assisted suicide is an appeal to personal liberty. The thought is that if I want to end my own life because of a terminal illness it is my right as an individual to do so. Individual liberty is very important and as we’ve learned on Utah Citizen Network pages an ordered liberty is vital to maintaining a viable society. People and nations don’t just do things, they stand for things, and we stand for life. We don’t discard people because they’re sick or old, we protect them and care for them the best we know how until their natural end comes. A culture that allows mass suicides is not a culture that values or promotes liberty.

Dig Deeper:

CNN: Assisted Suicide Fast Facts

Fox 13 Media: Right To Die Bill Being Unveiled

KSL: Husband of Brittany Maynard Pushes for Assisted Suicide

NCBI Study: Why Oregon Patients Request Assisted Death: Family Members’ Views

The BMJ Study: Prevalence of depression and anxiety in patients requesting physicians’ aid in dying

Wall Street Journal: A Doctor Assisted Disaster for Medicine

The Atlantic: Whose Right to Die

New Yorker: The Death Treatment

Vice News: Assisted Suicide Is Now Legal in Canada — And One Province Is Providing Free Drugs to Do It

ABC News: Death Drugs Cause Uproar in Oregon

Utah Citizen Network: Legislating Morality

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