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The Major Myths about Death with Dignity Laws
Posted by Melissa Barber on February 27, 2012
So often, when people understand the facts about Death with Dignity laws they strongly support this important end-of-life option. In the two states with Death with Dignity Acts, a poll by the National Journal and The Regence Foundation found 77% of Oregonians and 70% of Washingtonians have a favorable opinion of their Death with Dignity Acts.
Last week, we debunked common myths opponents use to scare people about Death with Dignity on our blog, and these posts are summarized below. These lies spread by opponents are a detriment to a proper debate. Let's base this discussion on facts, shall we?
Reality: The most telling sign of this lie is the lack of anything supporting the opposition's claim. In all fifteen years of the law's existence in Oregon, there's never been a case of coercion or undue influence related to the Death with Dignity Act. Not one.
Reality: This myth is a scare tactic, plain and simple, and glosses over the fact that Death with Dignity laws offer protections for all people living with or without disabilities. The multiple safeguards ensure the decision to shorten one's suffering when enduring a terminal illness rests solely in the hands of the person who's dying, and no one else.
Reality: Oregon's law has been in effect for 15 years and Washington's for three years. In order to change the scope of either law, it would take an act of the state legislature or approval of a ballot initiative by the voters. At no point in the long history of Oregon or Washington has there been any effort to expand or extend the Death with Dignity legislation to allow for euthanasia. There's been no slippery slope. It's a mentally competent, terminally ill individual's personal end-of-life decision and no one else's.
Reality: None of the moral, existential, or religious connotations of suicide apply when the patient's primary objective is not to end an otherwise open-ended span of life, but to find dignity in an already impending exit from this world. Individuals who use the law are likely to be offended by accusations of assisted suicide, because they're participating in an act to shorten the agony of their final hours, not killing themselves. Cancer (or another underlying condition) is killing them.
Reality: The reason opponents try to convince people the different laws are the same is to play on the slippery slope myth and to scare people into thinking about PolitiFact's 2009 Lie of the Year: 'Death Panels'. Rick Santorum tried this recently and was rebuffed by media outlets and the Dutch government.
Reality: This is one of the more whimsical myths which was very popular in Oregon during the 1990s, and one which has died down in popularity due to the complete lack of evidence to support it.
There's a common theme in the facts which debunk all of these myths: the years of data show Death with Dignity laws work the way they're intended and offer protections for all citizens. This is simply one end-of-life option, and people should be able to decide for themselves if it's a good fit for them if they're diagnosed with a terminal illness.
The main reason people don't agree with Death with Dignity laws is because of their own religious reasons. We, however, live in a country with separation of church and state and religious freedom. One group's religious doctrine shouldn't be the basis for state laws which affect everyone.
Posted on February 27, 2012 in Ask DDNC
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You are the key to ensuring well-crafted Death with Dignity laws for all Americans. With your financial and volunteer help, the Death with Dignity National Center, a 501(c)(3), non-partisan, nonprofit organization, has been the leading advocate in the Death with Dignity movement. Individual contributions helped us pass new Death with Dignity laws in Washington and Vermont, defend the Oregon law, and provide education and outreach programs for the vitality of the Death with Dignity movement.