“Death with Dignity” Focus of League of Women Voters

by on January 13, 2015 · 3 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, Life Events, Ocean Beach, The Widder Curry, Women's Rights

League WomVtrs 1-12-15 jc

Moderators – Jeanne Brown, Nancy Witt, Shirley Walkoe

“If You Like Sleep, You’ll Like Death Even Better”

A summary of the League of Women Voters meeting on “Death with Dignity”

The LWV has scheduled 9 different discussion places for the “Death with Dignity” topic.

On January 12th the discussion was held at the Point Loma Library.  The turn-out was disappointing to me – three men and nine women, plus the three female moderators.  The discussion, although slow at first, was interesting as the small audience began to participate.  The moderators were Nancy Witt, Shirley Walkoe and Jeanne Brown.

Jeanne led the discussion by handing out a statistical page of Assisted Suicide Laws by State.  We found out that three states have passed legislation permitting physician-assisted suicide:  – Oregon, Vermont and Washington.  Three State Supreme Courts have said that citizens of their states have the right to assisted suicide, and those states are Georgia, New Mexico and Montana.  One state, Ohio, says that assisted suicide is against public policy but not a crime.

Four states criminalize assisted suicide through common law and those are Alabama, Massachusetts, North Carolina and West Virginia.  Nevada, Utah and Wyoming have abolished the common law of crimes and do not have laws criminalizing assisted suicide.

Finally, there are 36 states that have laws explicitly criminalizing assisted suicide.

California is one of those states.

Interestingly enough, physician-assisted suicide is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and Luxembourg.  With the exception of Switzerland, the laws confine the procedure to residents only and under strict conditions.  Switzerland alone allows foreigners to come for hastened death, provided it is altruistic, not
profit-making nor of evil intent.

In the ensuing discussion, it was apparent that some groups are very much opposed to assisted suicide, namely many groups that deal with the disabled. There are some religious groups that are also opposed to the practice while there are several organized groups – the “Hemlock Society”, “Compassionate and Choices”,  for
example – that are in favor of the “right to die” initiatives. They hold meetings in San Diego on a regular basis. (In fact, the Hemlock Society has a meeting scheduled at the Scottish Rite Temple in Mission Valley at 1:30pm on Sunday, January 18th.)

In Oregon, in order to utilize the “right to die” law, two physicians must certify that life is terminal.  It is important that there is a written Advance Health directive in the patient’s file. It should be noted that if one is in a Catholic hospital, the wishes of the patient may not be followed, for, as a rule, the Catholic Hospital does not
follow directives that are in conflict with their own laws.  This is not just in the state of Oregon – this is all over.

Besides the Advance Health directive, there are other types of directives available, such as a “Living Will”; a DNR – do not resuscitate directive, etc.  It behooves the patient to have their wishes in writing even with everything in place, because relatives may have difficulty in having those wishes played out. It is difficult to watch your loved ones die; it is harder to say it is ok to “pull the plug.”

Once a decision about end of life has been reached, it is important to discuss that decision with the loved ones.  The final decision is that of the patient; but it is a smoother path if the family is aware of the wishes and can accept them.

Also pointed out in the meeting was that AARP, at their last convention, would not allow any organization promoting “right to die” practices to have a display table on site.  The convention was held in San Diego this past summer, and there were many protesting AARP’s negative reaction to this important topic.

The LWV will be meeting on February 7th, at the Mission Valley Library to set up their program planning for the coming year.  They will be discussing whether or not the League should continue their pursuit of this topic.  At the meeting an Arizona study report was quoted, and if you are interested you can access it by
going to this site.     Everyone is welcome to attend the meeting.  If you would like more information or want to join the committee contact Bev Wilson at bjwilson@san.rr.com.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

nancy witt January 13, 2015 at 5:35 pm

You do a wonderful job; you can absorb and get it written up so quickly. Thanks so much for this article and the many others you do so well.

There is a followup Luncheon With League, topic: To Be or Not to Be: Our End of life Choices – Pros and Cons of Freedom to Choose “Death With Dignity” on Thurs., 1/15, 11:30 – 1:30; at Tom Ham’s Lighthouse, 2150 Harbor Island Dr. $35.00; you can register at our website: http://www.lwvsandiego.org; click on “donate” and put in “35” and purpose “luncheon.” You could come and sign up also but registration preferred to have enough food. There will be 3 speakers.


Ginny Walters January 14, 2015 at 7:42 am

I’ve been a member of the League of Women Voters for more than 50 years (I have a certificate), but, more important, my husband, Dick, President of Patient Choices Vermont, and I were and are the chief movers initiating the effort to pass and now to maintain the Patient Choice at End of Life law in Vermont. In this article reference is made at least 8 times to “assisted suicide.” In doing so, Judi Curry uses the language of those who do not believe in choice and are opposed to the legislation, usually cloaked in the form of fear and imagined abuse –which hasn’t happened in 15 years in Oregon. Such pejorative language slants the discussion. People eligible to use a death with dignity law — in Oregon, Washington and Vermont — have no choice about whether to live or die. In choosing to avoid the possible physical, mental or spiritual pain and lack of any of the enjoyable aspects of life in the last days of their lives, dying patients may opt for a peaceful death. The disease is killing them — possibly slowly and painfully. The word “suicide” simply does not apply. I hope subsequent discussion groups organized by LWV will make that distinction — especially in any reports to the media.


Jeanne Brown January 14, 2015 at 9:12 am

You make a very good point. I will definitely share your concern for the use of “assisted suicide”; that it isn’t suicide if you are near death and have no choice about living or dying; the choice is in what manner. As a League member, you know, that at this point, we are showing both sides of the argument.
I hope that you will join us for the luncheon but also in the committee if this does become a state-wide study. Your experience and knowledge would be extremely useful in this endeavor.


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