Yesterday marked the six month anniversary of our state’s Death With Dignity Act. Compassion & Choices of Washington, a group that works to make sure the law works for both patients and doctors, announced that 16 Washington residents have passed away since taking advantage of the new law, 11 of whom actually used the prescription to control the time and manner of their passing. None of these events are cause for celebration, but merely a recognition that the terminally ill in this state have more choices than the residents of 48 other states, and that’s something that we should be proud of here.
Claudia Rowe covered the milestone nicely for the PI, but as she points out, opponents of the new law still aren’t doing a very good job of dealing with reality:
But no number of physician-assisted deaths — however small it may be — is small enough for opponents of the law. Eileen Geller, a hospice nurse and spokeswoman for True Compassion Advocates, believes that merely discussing the issue implies that hastening death is a valid option for the sick and vulnerable.
“It’s not just the few who have used this, but all the other Washingtonians who are receiving the message that they should die prematurely and unnaturally,” Geller said. “I’ve received calls from people who are worried and wondering, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t receive treatment. Maybe I should give up.'”
I have a very simple suggestion for Geller. Tell these people the truth. Tell them that giving people choices is in no way forcing them into a particular choice. Tell them that the law is not meant in any way to encourage people to die prematurely and unnaturally. Tell them that the law is meant for people who have very strong feelings about being able to control the time and place of their passing.
What’s most frustrating about this is that the reason that Washingtonians are “receiving the message that they should die prematurely and unnaturally” is not because of the law, but because people like Eileen Geller spent much of last year misleading people into thinking that that’s what the law was meant to do. It’s as if we pass health care reform this year, and then next year Sarah Palin finds that people keep telling her they’re worried about imaginary “Death Panels” and blames that phenomenon on Obama.
It’s one thing to be – like Palin – dishonest for the sake of your political prospects and potential income streams. It’s another thing altogether to be dishonest out of pure paranoia. If there are large numbers of people in this state having sleepless nights about the Death With Dignity law, it’s not the fault of the law. It’s the fault of those like Geller who act as if they’ll break out into hives if they simply tell the truth about what this law does and doesn’t do.