Death is a personal choice. Legislators shouldn’t make our end-of-life decisions for us.

http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/05/04/tom-waddell-death-is-a-personal-choice/

A bill from Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, would allow the terminally ill to end their lives without pain and suffering. This newspaper’s editorial, subtitled “The state should not make someone’s end-of-life decision for them,” supports this bill. Opponents disagree, largely for personally held religious beliefs.

One person argued against the bill by saying that we shouldn’t allow people to end their lives without suffering because suffering purges us of our sins and that to allow the terminally ill to avoid suffering will let them reject God’s plan for them. As a result, they will never get to heaven.

Apparently Stephanie Packer, who adamantly opposes this bill, agrees. In an interview with NPR, Packer and her husband stated; “We’re a faith-based family,” and, “God put us here on earth and only God can take us away. And he has a master plan for us, and if suffering is part of that plan, which it seems to be, then so be it.”

Sen. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, a co-sponsor of L.D. 1428, An Act To Protect Religious Freedom, opposes this bill. It’s no surprise that a legislator who cosponsored a bill that would put personal religious beliefs above everyone else’s civil rights would oppose a bill that goes against his personally held religious beliefs. Rep. Sheldon Hanington, R-Lincoln, also opposes this bill on religious grounds. He said, “I believe that life starts at conception and it ends with the last breath,” and, “Do I want to be any part of that? No. None of us that call ourselves Christians want to do that.”

It is unconscionable for legislators to oppose this bill on personally held religious beliefs because all legislators represent a constituency with a wide variety of religious and secular beliefs.

Fortunately there are legislators who support this bill. Rep. Patricia Hymanson, D-York, a co-sponsor of Katz’s bill, L.D. 347, a neurologist and former chairwoman of the Portsmouth Hospital ethics committee, says, “In ethics, medical ethics, we try to think of four different ideas; patient autonomy, doing what’s best for patients, avoiding harm, and justice,” and, “I think as physicians we need to be on the side of embracing the entirety of what life means, and that also includes death.”

Supporters agree with the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), a division of the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, organizations that make up the largest biomedical research conducted in the world. Says the NCBI, “To be forced to continue living a life that one deems intolerable when there are doctors who are willing (to) assist one in ending one’s own life, is an unspeakable violation of an individual’s freedom to live, and to die, as he or she sees fit.”

Opponents argue that no law can be written to guarantee no abuse will occur. The NCBI writes that “Banning alcohol consumption, prostitution, gambling, and so forth, does not result in the elimination of those practices, in either abusive or non-abusive forms. Similarly, the choice is not between euthanasia and no euthanasia, with abuse occurring only in the former. Instead the choice is between euthanasia with or without regulation.”

Valerie Lovelace, executive director of “It’s My Death,” a Wiscasset-based organization that provides “services and education to people who wish to actively explore the meaning of life through embracing the certainty of death,” also addresses this argument by noting, “There isn’t a federal or state law on the books that actually prevents crime. The best any law can do is be clear, as specific as possible, and in the case of aid-in-dying legislation, be safe-guarded.”

Maggie Ricker writes, “It isn’t death that most people fear, it’s the pain and suffering that often accompanies death.” Forcing everyone to endure pain and suffering at the end of their lives removes all sense of dignity. She writes, “Is it dignified to have someone wipe your butt? Is it dignified to have tubes running into and out of your body for sustenance and elimination? Is it dignified to lie helpless in a hospital bed, writhing in pain, wracked with nightmares caused by medication?”

Most people would prefer to die peacefully at home and this bill will allow the terminally ill to plan, with their family, when to end their lives. This bill will also allow everyone to be present when their loved one dies and restore a measure of dignity to a tragic event.

To quote this newspaper’s editorial board, “Legislators shouldn’t make our end-of-life decisions, but they should make all reasonable choices available to us. It should be up to the individual, not the government, to decide how and when the end should come.”

Tom Waddell is the president of the Maine chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

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