In April Connecticut officially abolished the death penalty for people convicted of murder, making it the 17th US state to do so, even though a majority of state residents wanted to keep it intact.
But as one class of residents gets a reprieve, another class may be vulnerable to continuing efforts across the country to deprive them of life, quite possibly without their knowledge or consent.
Thus far only two states, Oregon and Washington, permit euthanasia – defined as “mercy killing” of a person who is terminally ill and in great pain – but efforts to convince voters in other states to change the laws are ongoing including a current initiative next door in Massachusetts. The phrase “physician assisted suicide” also is used to define the act of taking a sick person’s life.
Some proponents of euthanasia claim that Montana also permits the killing of terminally ill people. But others argue that the law on assisted suicide is governed by the Montana Supreme Court decision, Baxter v. State, which gives doctors who assist a suicide a potential defense if there is a criminal prosecution, but does not grant anyone immunity from either criminal or civil actions.
Proponents of euthanasia say they are merely seeking a legal means to end the pain and suffering of people who would die soon anyway. But a stubborn international opposition maintains that not only will such laws lead to “death panels” where bureaucrats decide who lives and who dies, but that they also could provide predatory relatives and guardians with a means of accessing the assets of the sick and the weak.
In Massachusetts pro-euthanasia groups are supporting a ballot initiative to legalize physician-assisted suicide which is virtually identical to the laws in Oregon and Washington. Voters will decide in November whether to approve the measure.
Under the Massachusetts proposal terminally ill, mentally competent adults who are diagnosed with six months or less to live would have the option of purchasing a fatal dose of prescription medication. Backers of the initiative say that those planning on committing suicide would first have to undergo a systematic appraisal that would ensure they aren’t being coerced and that they are cognizant and competent.
Under the Massachusetts proposal patients would administer the drugs themselves rather than having someone do it for, or to, them. Doctors who oppose euthanasia could not be forced to write a fatal prescription.
But even with such safeguards, opponents of physician-assisted suicide fear its long-term ramifications. As an indication of the widespread concerns over euthanasia, Bellevue, Washington, attorney Theresa Schrempp wrote in a letter to the editor responding to an article in the Boston Globe on April 29, “The article claims that the proposed law’s application process is designed to ensure that people are not coerced.
To the contrary, the proposed law invites coercion by allowing an heir or other person with a financial interest in the patient’s death, to actively participate in the lethal dose sign up process. Someone else is also allowed to talk for the patient during the sign up process.
In the context of the preparation of a will, similar conduct can result in a will being invalidated due to fraud and/or undue influence. Such overreaching conduct is, however, specifically allowed by the proposed law.”
Another concern voiced by opponents of euthanasia is whether doctors look for and treat symptoms of depression before approving of and assisting in the suicide.
The issue of assisted suicide has surfaced in Connecticut from time to time but for the moment it is not on the legislature’s front burner. That could change, however.
During the debate on abolishing the death penalty one major factor was the claim that people already convicted and imprisoned on death row would still be executed, including the perpetrators of the vicious killings of members of the Petit family in Cheshire. But national level pundits and analysts say that the death penalty can not be applied unevenly. They say that those currently on death row can not be relegated to a different class of citizen, and may be legally entitled to having their sentences changed to life imprisonment, despite the claims of politicians who used that argument to sway undecided members of the Legislature.
So the big question facing Connecticut residents is whether they will have any say in the euthanasia issue the next time it does come up. In Massachusetts residents not only are actively debating the issue, they are poised to have a say at the polls in November.
In that state the issue will be decided by a majority of the people voting, not by a relative handful of representatives. But in Connecticut the issue could be debated intensely and still decided by a small fraction of the millions of registered voters, in other words legislators who may decide not to adhere to the wishes of the majority.
Which was just what they did with Connecticut’s death penalty.
- Granny Snatching: Battle Over Right To Die
- Granny Snatching: Euthanasia Battle Being Waged at Home, Abroad
- Granny Snatching: Population Control, A Debate to Die For
- Lessons From Dying: The Roadblocks In Helping Loved Ones Pass On Painlessly
- Assisted Suicide or Granny Snatching: Liberty or Death?
- Lessons From Dying: Part II