Uniting Against Physician-Assisted Suicide: The Second International Symposium on Euthanasia

Uniting Against Physician-Assisted Suicide:

The Second International Symposium on Euthanasia




Jane St Clair

Author, Walk Me to Midnight



At the end of May in Washington, DC,  the Second International Symposium on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide brought together a very diverse group of people from all walks of life and from all over the world.  Not everyone agreed on religious or political issues, including ones related to assisted suicide, such as the death penalty and abortion.


The task of the Symposium’s leaders was to get all these people to unite around just one issue.  Here is how some of the speakers went about “herding cats.”


Alex Schadenberg


Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition


We can agree on a definition of assisted suicide. It is one person directly and intentionally involved with ending the life of another. There is nothing in that definition about withdrawing or withholding care.  Assisted suicide is not about unintentional overdoses or unintentional deaths. Assisted suicide must be the direct and intentional cause of death.


There is a difference between killing someone and letting that person die. Removing medical treatment is not euthanasia.  A person who is actively dying may also refuse hydration and food.


We need unity. We need to accept that we are diverse, and that we can remain unified on a single-issue basis.  We have a specific area of concern.



Stephan Drake


Not Dead Yet Organization


I came to this convention under the notion that we would be focused on physician-assisted suicide, and not other issues like stem cell research, universal health care, Roe versus Wade, and so forth.  We cannot turn this into a cultural war discussion.  What does a coalition mean?  Where can we join together?   We must be focused on this one issue.


Margaret Dore, attorney


Coalition Against I-1000 in Washington State


The other side wants to talk against the Catholic Church.  The point is — let’s get back to talking about the laws and the statute and not about faith and values. 


When you go to argue assisted suicide laws, you should hit them where it really hurts. That is, to tell people to simply read and study the statute. Look at what the statute really says and how it does not provide protection. Look at the potential for abuse within the statute itself.


Look at the language of the statute itself.  The patient and the patient alone must have the choice to use or not use drugs.  To self-administer drugs refers to the act of ingesting medications. Yet ingesting drugs can mean intravenously, by mouth, through a patch on the arm or whatever. “Self-administered” can mean therefore that someone else gives you the medications.


Notice that the statute had no requirement for witnesses at the time of death.


Families typically abuse guardianship statutes in order to access elderly people’s estates as quickly as possible. This is why 95% of family members abuse such statutes. Assisted-suicide laws give them a new means to inherit estates more quickly.


Dr. Margaret Cottle


Palliative Care Physicians, Canada


The idea that you are better off dead is belief-based. There is not one shred of evidence that proves you are better off dead. 


People who make up these policies are often physicians who have an agenda and work their way up in political systems.  The phrase “physician-assisted death” better describes the essence of the process than “physician-assisted suicide.”


Under some laws, doctors do not have to assist suicides, but anyone with a license can do it.  Today you are allowing “philosopher-assisted suicides.”


Many say that the Oregon law has “careful safeguards” and there is no pressure on vulnerable persons to end their lives.  The fact that people in Oregon are carrying around cards that say, “Do not euthanize me” shows they feel under pressure.


Dr. William Toffler


National director, Physicians for Compassionate Care


Why are assisted suicide laws aimed at people who have only six months to live?  Why are only doctors turned into the judges and executioners in these cases?  Why are just overdoses of sleeping pills used?  Injections would be more efficient.  Some people have lived up to eleven days after an overdose.


If you look at the data in the Oregon experience with assisted suicide, there has been an incremental increase in the number of cases.  For example, in 1998, there were 20 cases; in 2003, there were 60 cases; and in 2008, there were 80 cases. 


We are also seeing an erosion of information in Oregon.  In 1998, for example, there was a 17-page average report on each case, and psychological referrals were done 20% of the time. In 2009, the reports were down to five pages and psychological referrals were only 3%.



Dr. Mark Mostert


Director, the Institute for the Study of Disability and Bioethics


We are at a critical juncture in the euthanasia debate.  There is a social acceptance of doing away with people.


The sole criteria  for this coalition should be that we are opposed to assisted suicide, euthanasia and eugenics.  These are equal opportunity killers, and religion, and liberal or conservative, and whatever else does not matter in this fight. 


Ask us why euthanasia and assisted suicide are wrong.  Ask us why living is better than suicide.