Euthanasia not that way

We have found that most people are more interested in having the option that using it.

As the president of Compassion & Choices of Minnesota, I would like to correct the misleading description of our organization as “pro-euthanasia” in Becca Lange’s Thursday guest column “Euthanasia a human alternative,” and perhaps clarify a few other points as well.

Compassion & Choices supports physician aid in dying that would allow a competent and terminally ill adult the legal right to ask his or her physician for a prescription for medications that the patient then could take themselves to end his or her suffering. Euthanasia, on the other hand, involves death by direct action of a physician or another person rather than by the patient.

We advocate for an Oregon-style law that contains more than a dozen safeguards to prevent abuse, including a second confirming diagnosis that the illness is terminal, a mandatory waiting period after the request by the patient and counseling in alternatives to a hastened death such as hospice enrollment, palliative care and pain management. We have found that most people are more interested in having the option than in using it. By simply knowing the option exists should all else fail, most patients are empowered to live what life they have left to its fullest.

“Pulling the plug” when a dying patient is beyond hope of recovery does not really fall into either category. It is a normal, accepted medical decision that is often necessary, especially now that technology plays such a big role in so many people’s final days.

The decision in Gonzalez v. Oregon did not directly recognize the right to physician aid in dying, much less to euthanasia, but rather confirmed that the federal government could not use a particular federal anti-drug law to overrule the state’s law that allows physician-assisted dying.

The U.S. Constitution does not define life as a right, certainly not “ordained by God,” who is not mentioned anywhere in the document. The Declaration of Independence, however, does say that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are among the “unalienable rights” with which all men and women have been “endowed by their Creator.”

This Creator, by the way, was not the personal God of Christianity or any other religion, but a more abstract concept of deity, closer to Nature and understood by reason rather than revelation, as 18th-century Deists, including our founding fathers, believed.

I think Lange and I are basically on the same side in the end-of-life debate, but it is very important that we are all very careful and precise in our use of terminology that can be controversial and/or misunderstood. Our ill-chosen words can and will be used against us by those who would deny our freedom to choose.

Janet Conn is president of Compassion & Choices of Minnesota. Please send comments to [email protected]