Sunday, February 3, 2013

Physician-assisted suicide: Permission is recipe for abuse

January 30, 2013 8:30 am
In the 2011 legislative session, Sen. Anders Blewett and I introduced competing bills in response to the Montana Supreme Court’s assisted-suicide case, Baxter v. State. The case did not legalize assisted-suicide. Its language was, however, a “toe in the door,” which could lead to legalization in the future.

Neither bill passed. His bill had sought to legalize assisted-suicide; mine had sought to reverse Baxter. This legislative session, there will likely be a similar contest.

The vast majority of states to consider assisted suicide have rejected it. In the past two years, three states have strengthened their laws against assisted suicide: Georgia, Louisiana and Idaho. Only two states allow it, Oregon and Washington. Their laws were enacted by initiative campaigns.

No such law has made it through the scrutiny of a legislature despite more than 100 attempts.

Legal assisted suicide is, regardless, a recipe for elder abuse in which heirs are empowered to pressure and abuse older people to cut short their lives. I urge you to tell your legislators that you support legislation to close on the door on assisted suicide in Montana.

To learn more, see this website:

Greg Hinkle, Thompson Falls

Monday, January 28, 2013

Physician-assisted suicide runs risk of invisible coercion

Ben Mattlin writes in The New York Times on Oct. 31, 2012, that he counts himself as a pro-choice liberal who ought to support physician-assisted suicide, but as a lifelong disabled person, he cannot.

Physician-assisted suicide is a person swallowing a lethal drug prescribed by a doctor. With plenty of room for abuse, Mattlin says, it’s a bad idea.

In Montana, the issue of physician-assisted suicide has been kicked around in the Legislature and in the courts, including the Montana Supreme Court, resulting in a mixed message that needs clarity. This Legislature will try again.

Here’s Mattlin: “My problem, ultimately, is this: I’ve lived so close to death for so long that I know how thin and porous the border between coercion and free choice is, how easy it is for someone to inadvertently influence you to feel devalued and hopeless — to pressure you ever so slightly but decidedly into being ‘reasonable’ to unburdening others, to ‘letting go.’”

He goes on to say that, while the push for physician-assisted suicide comes from many who have seen a loved one suffer, supporters of it can’t truly conceive of the many “subtle forces — invariably well-meaning, kindhearted, even gentle, yet as persuasive as a tsunami — that emerge when your physical autonomy is hopelessly compromised.”

Mattlin was born with spinal muscular atrophy. He has never walked, stood, or had much use of his hands. Half of babies with this condition die within two years. Today, Mattlin, almost 50, is a husband, father, journalist and author.

When a hospital blunder compromised his heath further, doctors questioned whether his life was worth saving. Mattlin writes, “They didn’t know about my family, my career, my aspirations.” His wife rescued him.

From this he learned how easy it is to be perceived as someone whose quality of life is untenable and how this becomes one of many invisible forces of coercion. Others include, “that certain look of exhaustion in a loved one’s eyes, or the way nurses or friends sigh in your presence while you are zoned out in a hospital bed.”

Mattlin writes that this can cast a dangerous cloud of depression upon even the most cheery of optimists. He says, “advocates of Death with Dignity laws who say that patients themselves should decide whether to live or die are fantasizing. We are inexorably affected by our immediate environment. The deck is stacked.”

Cort Freeman
2950 Bayard St.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Assisted suicide would exacerbate problem of elder abuse in Montana

For over 20 years, I have been an internal medicine physician with a high percentage of older patients. I have had the painful misfortune of personally observing countless instances of elder abuse.

Elder abuse is horrific and on the rise. Perpetrators of the abuse include hired caregivers, neighbors and family members. In my experience, the motive is usually financial gain. This was true in the case of one of my patients, where a much younger man obtained financial control (became payee for Social Security and retirement benefits) by taking advantage of an elderly woman’s loneliness and dementia. He feigned romantic interest in her, flattering her to the point that she took his side against her family members. She became isolated and totally dependent on him. After many months, Adult Protective Services was able to provide a guardian. This same motive of greed could lead to coerced assisted suicide if there was anticipated financial gain, and death could occur quickly if assisted suicide was legal – before protection could be put in place.

In Oregon and Washington, where assisted suicide is legal, portions of those states’ statutes lend themselves to elder abuse, such as the fact that no witness is required at the time of death. An elderly patient of mine recently died peacefully and of natural causes in his home, surrounded by family. His daughter was devastated when a family member visiting from Oregon asked if they had given him pills to end his life, as they would have done in her state.

Elder abuse is already a huge problem in Montana. I hope Montana’s legislators will have the courage to stop legalization of assisted suicide here and thereby protect the elderly and disabled.

For more information, including a summary of this important issue, see

Annie Bukacek,

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Oregon doctor could not save patient from assisted suicide

I am a doctor in Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal. A few years ago, I was caring for a 76-year-old man who presented to my office a sore on his arm, eventually diagnosed as melanoma. I referred him to specialists for evaluation and therapy.

I had known this patient and his wife for more than a decade. He was an avid hiker, a popular hobby here in Oregon. As his disease progressed, he was less able to do this activity, becoming depressed, which was documented in his chart.

During this time, my patient expressed a wish for assisted suicide to one of the specialists. Rather than take the time to address his depression, or ask me as his primary care physician to talk with him, she called me and asked me to be the “second opinion” for his suicide. She told me that barbiturate overdoses “work very well” for patients like this, and that she had done this many times before.

I told her that assisted suicide was not appropriate for this patient and that I did not concur. I was very concerned about my patient’s mental state, and told her that addressing his underlying issues would be better than simply giving him a lethal prescription. Unfortunately, my concerns were ignored, and two weeks later my depressed patient was dead from an overdose prescribed by this doctor.

Under Oregon’s law, I was not able to protect my depressed patient. If assisted suicide becomes legal in Montana, you may not be able to protect your friends or family members.

I urge you to contact your legislators to tell them to keep assisted suicide out of Montana. Don’t make Oregon’s mistake.

Dr. Charles J. Bentz
Portland, Ore.