A Disabled Life Is A Life Worth Living

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imageAuthor Ben Mattlin has written a profound article on the value of life with a disability, partly in response to the suicide of Jerika Bolen, a 14-year-old Wisconsin girl who ended her life by refusing medical treatment. Mattlin has Spinal Muscular Atrophy–the same disability Bolen had.

“I dare not judge Jerika Bolen. I don’t know the entirety of her situation. But I do wish she had found the will to live. I’m saddened — as were many others with S.M.A, and some disability rights groups — to think others might grow so weary or apprehensive that they follow her example. I hope she received the same level of intervention any other suicidal 14-year-old would. I wish I could have told her about the psychological alchemy that can turn frustration into an internal fuel. If I’d had the chance I would have told her that society needs its disabled people, too.”

Read the full article here.

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Life Legal Fights Legalized Killing

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Last week, Life Legal had the opportunity to meet three heroes in the fight against the legalization of assisted suicide: 30-year-old former U.S. Marine JJ Hanson, his wife Kristen Hanson, and Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, a psychiatrist with the University of California at Irvine’s Neuropsychiatric Center.

In 2014, both Brittany Maynard and JJ Hanson were diagnosed with the same form of aggressive brain cancer. Like Maynard, Hanson was told he only had a few months to live.

While Brittany chose to spend her remaining days looking for a doctor who could end her life, JJ sought a doctor willing to provide treatment—and found one. He underwent an extremely risky surgery to remove the tumors. While the procedure itself went well, JJ suffered complication that nearly ended his life. He endured chemotherapy, radiation, and a new experimental therapy.

During those dark days, JJ became clinically depressed and questioned whether he wanted to go on living. He now realizes how vulnerable patients are as they are wrestling with a devastating diagnosis—and how easy it would have been to give up, had “aid-in-dying” drugs been available to him.

Two years later, JJ’s cancer is in remission. JJ and Kristen are now working to oppose assisted suicide laws in New York.

Dr. Aaron Kheriaty is a declarant in Life Legal’s lawsuit against California’s “End of Life Option Act.” He has been an active opponent of assisted suicide laws across the nation. As a psychiatrist, Dr. Kheriaty has researched the links between serious illness, depression, and suicide and found that 80-90% of all suicides are associated with depression or other treatable mental disorders. California’s End of Life Option Act does not require patients to undergo a psychiatric evaluation prior to obtaining a lethal prescription. Dr. Kheriaty believes this lack of evaluation constitutes medical negligence.

“The law is a teacher: Laws shape the ethos of a culture by affecting cultural attitudes toward certain behaviors and influencing moral norms. Laws permitting physician-assisted suicide send a message that, under especially difficult circumstances, some lives are not worth living.” —Dr. Aaron Kheriaty

LAWSUIT UPDATE: State Attorney General Kamala Harris has now intervened and will submit her reply to the lawsuit this week.

Please consider making a donation today to help Life Legal fight California’s assisted suicide law and to send the message that life is worth protecting.

Do Assisted Suicide Laws Promote Suicide?

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  1. Assisted suicide laws communicate the message that under especially difficult circumstances, some lives are not worth living. This message will be heard by not only those with a terminal illness but also any person struggling with the temptation to end his or her life.
  2. Suicide rates constitute a public health crisis. According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is currently the third leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults and the tenth leading cause of death overall for individuals over the age of ten. Legalizing assisted suicide will worsen this crisis. It sends a message to teens and young adults that suicide is an appropriate response to difficult life circumstances.
  3. In October 2015, a study was published in the Southern Medical Journal showing that legalizing physician assisted suicide was associated with a 6.3% increase in total suicides, including assisted suicides.[1] The increase in total suicides among individuals 65 years and older was 14.5%. This is contrary to the assertions of Judge Richard Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, who suggested that legalizing assisted suicide “might actually reduce the number of suicides and postpone the suicides that occur.”[2]
  4. The “Werther Effect,” which refers to the increase in clusters of suicides after publicized cases of suicide, is well validated. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and the U.S. Surgeon General have published strict journalistic guidelines for reporting on suicides to minimize this effect. Unfortunately, these guidelines were ignored in the case of Brittany Maynard, whose suicide was portrayed in the media as inspiring and even heroic.
  5. The number of deaths from assisted suicide in Oregon was 37% percent higher in October than the 2014 average. After Maynard’s death on November 1, 2014, deaths from assisted suicide spiked in November, rising 71.4% above the 2014 average.
  6. The overall suicide rate in Oregon has risen dramatically following the legalization of assisted suicide there. As of 2010, suicide rates were 35% higher in Oregon than the national average.
  7. Studies show that when an individual receives intervention during a crisis—for example, during the months of difficult adjustment after a new diagnosis of a serious or terminal disease—his or her risk of suicide is substantially decreased.
  8. Belgium and Switzerland, where assisted suicide is practiced, have the highest and second-highest suicide rates in Western Europe.
  9. In contrast to the “Werther Effect,” the publication of cases that convey a message of hope and perseverance in the face of adversity is associated with decreased suicide rates. This is known as the “Papageno Effect.”
  10. In the midst of suffering and decline we can still find courage, hope and even beauty. True compassion and mercy involve walking this difficult journey with our loved ones — a journey in which there simply are no shortcuts.

[1] Jones, DA and Paton, D. How Does Legalization of Physician-Assisted Suicide Affect Raters of Suicide? South Med J. 2015; 108(10):599-604.

[2] Posner, RA. Aging and Old Age. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.