Soyer: Who has the choice in assisted suicide?

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Soyer: Who has the choice in assisted suicide?

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By Hannah Soyer

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I am a very large supporter of individual choices and the right for individuals to make choices in regard to their own lives. Though, in the context of California’s most recent legislation concerning assisted suicide, the idea of “choice” may be disputed rather than upheld.

Stephanie Packer, a woman living in California who has a terminal form of scleroderma, an autoimmune disease, recently came out saying that her insurance company denied her coverage of chemotherapy but said it would cover doctor-assisted suicide. The insurance originally was going to cover her chemo, but then the End of Life Option Act went into effect on June 9.

The California law allows those who have a prognosis of six months or fewer left to live, with the approval of an attending physician, to be given a life-ending drug, one that each person has to administer her- or himself. Soon after this law was passed, Packer received a letter from her insurance company saying it was no longer going to cover her treatment, although the life-ending drugs would be covered.

Besides this being completely backwards and disheartening, it’s important to think about “choice” in this situation. What happened to Packer’s choice? It was taken away, most likely because a law such as this encourages insurance companies to deny life-altering treatments that cost much more money than ending a life. Where, exactly, is the individual’s agency in this?

I know so many supporters of assisted-suicide laws who contend that each terminally ill person should have the right to make that decision for her- or himself. But this is a dangerous belief to hold, even with the rules that California’s law has that the person must have six months or fewer left to live.

This prognosis in and of itself is subjective. Who decides? And who’s to say that prognosis is actually correct? I have a disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy, and many people with it are not expected to live past two years. But here I am.

Though I want to stress that each situation is unique, there are no doctors telling me I have six months left to live, nor do I represent the entire disability community — I know many people with disabilities who support assisted-suicide laws.

That said, if I were terminally ill, I would hope that taking life-ending medication would not be the only option lauded by the medical community or covered by my insurance. Where is my choice in that?

We need to step back and consider the slippery slope that assisted-suicide bills are for people with terminal illnesses or disabilities. There’s a difference between people on their deathbeds and people with terminal illnesses or disabilities, but clearly people don’t understand that, or at least, Parker’s insurance company does not. Instead of focusing on making society more adapted to those with terminal illnesses, disabilities, or even just those who are dying, assisted-suicide bills place the emphasis on opting out of life.

And disturbingly, this is no longer just an intangible oppressive mindset, this is reality. Packer’s insurance company will not cover her chemotherapy treatment, but it will cover the expense of ending her life. Think assisted-suicide laws are a way to bring compassion to those who are dying? Think again.