Fighting Assisted Suicide = Giving Hope

Elderly holding hands


By Maria Gallagher, Legislative Director

When my father died, the emotional pain experienced by my mother, sister, and myself felt overwhelming. He was the rock of our family, our protector, and the world felt a little less safe without him in it.

Yet, we were consoled by the fact that medical personnel had done everything they could to save his life. The best medical equipment gave him every opportunity to rebound. But sadly, he just could not recover.

I think of my father when discussions turn to assisted suicide–or, more appropriately referred to as doctor-prescribed suicide. Proponents argue that it is the solution to what ails many in our society–the feeling of a loss of control, the fear of intractable pain.

And yet, doctor-prescribed suicide leads to a host of problems. The vulnerable and the mentally ill are especially susceptible.

Consider this statement from Dr. Charles Bentz: “Instead of helping my patient, (a) once-trusted colleague decided my patient was ‘better off dead’ and became an accomplice in his suicide.

“This is the real tragedy of assisted suicide in Oregon. Instead of providing excellent care, my patient’s life was cut short by a physician who did not address the issues underlying his suicidality.”

Research indicates that as many as 90 percent of suicides in this country are linked to  mental illness, most notably depression. Yet in 2015, a paltry 5 out of 132 assisted suicide victims had obtained psychiatric counseling.

It is also important to note that, when individuals choose assisted suicide, pain, or even the fear of pain, ranks at the bottom of the list of reasons for their decision. Rather, the top reason listed is losing autonomy, or independence.

Fighting assisted suicide equals giving hope. We must redouble our efforts to attend to patients’ physical and psychological needs, so that doctor-prescribed suicide is not only unappealing, but also unthinkable.

New PA Resources on the Threat of Assisted Suicide

This spring, two bills that could legalize doctor-prescribed suicide were introduced in the Pennsylvania House (HB943) and Senate (SB549).

Giving helpEuthanasia advocates are targeting Pennsylvania and about a dozen other states right now, trying to push their deadly agenda. They have already succeeded in five states.

Here are a few ways you can learn more about this growing threat:

  • The Pennsylvania Coalition to Stop Doctor-Prescribed Suicide now has a website. Visit for facts, issue papers, videos, and other resources. And follow the Coalition on Facebook and Twitter. The coalition is a diverse network of disability rights activists, medical professionals, and other groups who believe in compassionate care of people with disabilities and terminal illness, rather than the dangerous practice of doctor-prescribed suicide.
  • We have several fact sheets available: Oregon’s Assisted Suicide Law: Safeguards Don’t Work, and Threat of Doctor-Prescribed Suicide in Pennsylvania. Read them online or request copies from our office.
  • Sign up for our twice-monthly Online Newsletter to receive regular updates about what’s happening in Pennsylvania and what you can do to help protect lives.

We are working hard to educate the public about the threat of doctor-prescribed suicide. Please help us by informing yourself and your friends.

Why Disability Rights Groups Oppose Assisted Suicide

The disability rights community is one of the most vocal opponents of assisted suicide.

Many news outlets stereotype opponents of assisted suicide as merely religious; but we who fight to protect people against the threat oPillsf assisted suicide come from diverse backgrounds.

It was refreshing to see the news website The Daily Beast acknowledge that in a recent article, “Why Disability Advocates Say No to Doctor-Assisted Death.”

Many disability rights groups say assisted suicide presents a dangerous double standard about the value of people’s lives.

Reporter Elizabeth Picciuto presented the following situation:

Suppose a good friend of yours says that she wants to kill herself. You, and most people close to her, would probably try to help her so she did not feel that suicide was a viable option. Suicide prevention would be the goal of the medical profession, of family and friends. Not, however, in the case of someone seeking physician-assisted death.

“The difference is your health or disability status. Then suddenly suicide is a rational decision,” Diane Coleman, president and CEO of Not Dead Yet, a disability-rights group that advocates against assisted suicide and euthanasia, told The Daily Beast. “We think equal rights should also mean equal rights to suicide prevention.”

Samantha Crane, director of public policy for the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, said the emphasis should be on offering better care, not death, to people who are suffering.

“People believe that opposition to physician-assisted suicide is a belief that it’s noble to suffer, or that people shouldn’t have the ability to control their care when they are seriously ill,” Crane told Picciuto. “That is not the basis of our beliefs. Our goal is to make everyone happier, and to make sure that they have quality lives and help them have access to everything they need so that they do not want to die.”

The full article is worth reading. However, the reporter’s bias does come through on certain points. For example, Picciuto claims that Americans strongly support doctor-prescribed suicide; but she fails to acknowledge that polls vary widely depending on how the question is asked.

This winter in Pennsylvania, two bills have been proposed to legalize doctor-prescribed suicide. Click here to learn more.

My Friend’s Suicide Was Tragic, Why Wasn’t Brittany Maynard’s?

I remember waking up in the middle of the night to the urgent sound of our phone ringing.

A late-night call at our house usually meant one thing: Someone was dying. My dad is a pastor, and he occasionally received midnight calls to come to the bedside of a dying parishioner.

SadwomanNo one else seemed to be awake, so I made myself get up and answer it. A young woman’s voice asked to speak to the pastor. I woke my dad, then returned to bed.

The next morning when I opened my eyes, my mom was sitting on the side of my bed. It startled me, because she almost never came in to wake me up.

She rubbed my back, paused, and then said, “Sweetie, that phone call last night … I just wanted you to know that Matt committed suicide.”

It seemed so unreal. Matt (not his real name), the happy-go-lucky kid from our small town community, had taken his own life. I didn’t know him well, but I knew that he hadn’t had an easy life. I wondered how much he was suffering behind his mask of smiles.

It’s been more than ten years since that day, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately — especially as I read about the tragic case of Brittany Maynard, the 29 year old who had terminal brain cancer and committed doctor-prescribed suicide last November. Her suicide is being treated so differently from the death of that young man. His suicide was called tragic, preventable. Hers? Courageous.

What’s the difference? How can one person’s suicide be celebrated and another’s be mourned? Assisted suicide advocates are trying to draw lines in the sand that determine when killing a human life is ok and when it isn’t, but the lines aren’t meaningful, really.

Suicide is always tragic. It takes away something we can never get back – a precious human life. Suffering can be treated and relieved, but death is permanent.

Suicide is not a solution. Not to Brittany Maynard’s problems, not to Matt’s problems, not to anyone’s problems. It’s time we erase these meaningless lines, and remind people that every life is valuable, and every life deserves protection under the law.

(As a side note, the Patients Rights Action Fund, a disability rights group, also addresses the suicide double standard in its January newsletter. Read the excellent article here.)