Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Denying Death in Montana's Legislature

Here we go: Montana Republican state senator Greg Hinkle has introduced a bill that would make it illegal for a doctor to give a mentally competent, terminally ill patient a lethal prescription. The bill is a reaction to the New Year's Eve decision by the state supreme court that aid in dying is not prevented under the current state constitution. Those of us watching the state since the New Year have been noting the battle brewing there. Compassion and Choices, participants in the Baxter v. Montana case, have been running ads to make more citizens aware of the dying process and the way aid in dying works. They've rightly anticipated moves like this by legislature and "pro-life" groups to temper that ruling. Hinkle's statements in this article are, I think, very telling of the mindset he represents.

Hinkle says a family member was told he only had a short while to live. That was over 30 years ago and he's still alive with great grand kids. He thinks people could take advantage of a sad person for malicious purposes. He says "If you're in a depressed state, which some people can be, then they might say I give up instead of fighting it. Look at how many cases of people with debilitating diseases who are going to fight .

The common argument against aid in dying takes these points as evident, moral and worthy of state enforcement:

1. Doctors misdiagnose and miracles do happen (meaning God can reward us with a reprieve from a terminal illness)

2. Society, termed the "culture of death" by "pro-life" groups, is out to kill. Hinkle and others see themselves as protectors of moral and religious behavior.

3. A patient who "gives up" on life by asking for aid in dying doesn't deserve to have their suffering alleviated. In other words, those who accept that death must come are not victims of a terminal disease but victims of their own lax morals. And yet, those who request aid in dying have most often fought their disease for years - in Baxter's case it was 12 years - with a strong will to live.

4. By legislating that all patients refuse to "give up," Hinkle is arguing for futile care, that each of us deny the likelihood of death and accept the physically, emotionally and financially costly treatments that can't save life but can only prolong death, if not for themselves then for a society that works to deny death.

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