As Assisted Suicide Laws Spread, Cancer Survivors, Disabled Object

Death-Dignity_01

As citizens from California to Kentucky push for dying rights, advocacy groups for people with disabilities question whether physician-assisted suicide should be legal.

Danielle Ohl reports: Doctors told Chasity Phillips in 2002 that she had a 50 percent chance of surviving surgery.

“The risk of mistake and coercion and abuse are really too great.”

— Diane Coleman, founder and CEO of Not Dead Yet, an advocacy group that informs and lobbies on behalf of the disabled

She suffers from chondrosarcoma, a malignant bone cancer. It had begun to affect her heart, ribs and spinal cord. Her choices were certain death, her doctors said, or surgery to remove part of the tumor.

“There’s a certain freedom that comes with dying. You really don’t have to deal with your annoying cousin. You really don’t have to go on that family trip. You can eat ice cream for breakfast.”

— Chasity Phillips, Cancer patient

She chose the surgery. Still, the return of her cancer was likely. Doctors told her she would have six months to a year before it grew back, requiring more risky followups.

But 13 years later, Phillips is 38 years old and thriving, despite two very severe medical conditions. She also suffers from lupus. The state of her health has made her somewhat philosophical about her own mortality.

“There’s a certain freedom that comes with dying,” said Phillips, who lives near New Orleans. “You really don’t have to deal with your annoying cousin. You really don’t have to go on that family trip. You can eat ice cream for breakfast.”

Her prognosis was not unlike Brittany Maynard’s. But Maynard chose physician-assisted suicide after doctors diagnosed her with terminal brain cancer on Jan. 1, 2014. Before she died less than a year later – on Nov. 1, 2014 – at age 29, Maynard had become a prominent advocate for the “death with dignity” movement, which has triggered legislation in 25 states.

She was one of 1,327 people who took advantage of Oregon’s 1997 Death with Dignity Act, the oldest and foremost such law in the country, by obtaining the life-ending medicine. Maynard was one of the 859 people who actually chose to use it.

But as citizens from California to Kentucky push for dying rights, advocacy groups for people with disabilities question whether physician-assisted suicide should be legal.

“The risk of mistake and coercion and abuse are really too great,” said Diane Coleman, founder and CEO of Not Dead Yet, an advocacy group that informs and lobbies on behalf of the disabled.

Besides Oregon, whose death with dignity law is a model for similar efforts elsewhere, four other states allow physician-assisted suicide: Washington and Vermont have legislation in place, while Montana and New Mexico established legality through the courts.

Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia are considering or have considered legislation this year, and Kansas and Missouri are among the 12 states weighing death with dignity legislation for the first time…..(read more)

McClatchy DC

Emma Baccellieri of the Washington Bureau contributed.



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