Monday, January 4, 2010

Contrived Story: Death with Dignity and the Estate Tax.

Ok, I admit to having avoided this meme for a while now because I was unwilling to honor its absurdity with a post. But it seems to unfortunately have legs because few journalists are examining the facts and, well, get a great punch up from the emotions the "concern" garners.

The contrived story is: changes in the estate tax, or the politically termed "death" tax, which go into effect at the end of this year, will cause wealthy elders at the urging of their soon-to-be-cheated-of-millions heirs, to commit suicide using the Death with Dignity laws in Washington and Oregon.

Some writers are with-it enough to have noticed that Montana just legalized aid in dying but some, like Kay Helbling with the Oregon Business Report, quoted below, miss Montana altogether.

It's a contrived story, for a number of reasons I'll get to in a minute, but perfectly indicative of how the media irresponsibly get aid in dying wrong again and again, to the benefit of "pro-life" activists who oppose aid in dying, by illogically and unfactually slapping together cause and effect.

Helbling writes with perfect, false alarm:

In insurance it’s called a “moral hazard”. A moral hazard is the result of maximizing behavior. A person weighs the costs and benefits of an action and when benefits exceed costs, he takes the action. For example, if an accident costs the person $1000, but pays $2000, the person not only has no incentive to avoid the accident but may have an incentive to seek it out.

What has this got to do with assisted suicide? There could be “millions” in estate tax reasons why they relate. Estate taxes have long been referred to as the “death tax”, but 2010 may shine a whole new meaning on that term. Presently the estate tax is 45%. The estate tax will drop to 0% for just one year, 2010, and then return to the pre-Bush administration rate of 55% in 2011.

Opponents to the physician-assisted suicide laws have long felt there is a moral hazard to granting a person the right to chose when to die. Will the person make that choice merely because of their personal suffering, or are they going to feel obligated to do so to relieve their children of the need to care for them or because they are a financial burden. Add to the mix the possibility that by dying in 2010 they could become a financial “windfall” for their heirs and the risk of a “moral” hazard to the law rises.

Firstly, Helbling completely misses the way aid in dying works in the three states where it is legal. A patient in Washington, Oregon, or Montana must be terminal, meaning near death, to request a lethal dose from their doctor. Then they must administer the medicine themselves. Instead, she paints the laws as state-legalized suicide that allows a patient to end their life whenever convenient.

The story only exists because ignorant or politically motivated parties continue to conflate suicide - an untimely taking of ones life - with aid in dying, the ending of the suffering of a terminal patient, already sentenced to death by old age or a terminal illness. The continued popular use of "assisted suicide" doesn't help much and is perpetuated by those opposed to aid in dying.

The story that the changes to the estate tax will cause more suicides is a cloudy crystal ball - and who am I to predict the future? Certainly someone should be able to scrape up statistics about how many patients extended their lives (at the urging of relatives, on life support, a comatose vegetable until the calendar changed) until the lax Bush laws came into effect.

But murder is illegal and so too is suicide in some states, the former prevents the actor from inheriting, the latter from receiving lucrative life insurance pay outs. That aid in dying provides nefarious, evil family members with an easy way to snuff a parent is silly. Aid in dying has caused greater oversight and regulation of the end of life period than is given it in other states.

Murder and suicide have nothing to do with aid in dying, though opponents try to convince the public that they do. Assumed coercion by greedy family members is less likely in states where aid in dying is closely watched, regulated and reported on. And assuming coercion will occur is a grave injustice to the elderly and terminally ill, a discrimination against their autonomy and ability to make good decisions.

So few people die at home these days, less than 20%, that no family members, particularly those of the wealthy, are required to care for the dying at home. The assertion that the terminal elder will kill themselves or will be coerced to kill themselves by greedy heirs is a trumped up concern that has no proof - it is simply a supposition that business and "pro-life" groups have clasped onto - but certainly has nothing to do with the Death with Dignity laws.

There's an enormous difference between a dying patient requesting a lethal dose of medicine to end their last days or weeks of suffering - with the strictly government regulated oversight of their doctor - and committing a crime.

Now if only the media would leave sensationalism out of it and report according to facts.

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