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Patients Rights Action Fund

Personal Stories

Assisted suicide affects many kinds of people from various backgrounds in many ways. Read the stories of these people who have engaged on the issue, been personally affected, and have been coerced and abused. Assisted suicide legislation is dangerous and discriminatory. 

Assisted Suicide is not an Acceptable Answer from the Medical Community

Dr. Laurie Petrillo MD,
Palliative Care Specialist

“We have an urgent responsibility to improve the experience of dying so no one feels the only option to maintain their dignity is to hasten their death.” Dr. Laura Petrillo works everyday with patients who are learning to live with chronic and terminal illness. Medical literature indicates that inequality leads to earlier and greater effects of aging among patients from disadvantaged groups who then face under or over-treatment by the medical community. With these facts in the background, some groups want to legalize assisted suicide. Our flawed health care system, steep medical costs, and ageism all contribute to interest in physician-assisted death, which is an incredibly inappropriate solution to real end-of-life concerns. People are already dying prematurely in this present system. Assisted suicide will simply cause more to die prematurely.

Blacks and Latinos REJECT Assisted Suicide

Anita Cameron
Director, Minority Outreach
Not Dead Yet

“As a Black Latina, I could never wrap my head around the assisted suicide phenomenon. I thought that it was some odd thing that privileged White people were into.” Anita is professionally and personally aware of the fact that Black and Brown people strongly oppose assisted suicide. A Massachusetts 2012 referendum on assisted suicide revealed majority Hispanic towns voted as much as 69% against assisted suicide. A Massachusetts precinct that voted 99% for Barack Obama also voted 72% against assisted suicide. Towns with wealthy and white populations throughout the state voted for it. Legislators, most of whom are from the same demographic as those pushing for assisted suicide, may ignore the fact that Black and Brown communities reject assisted suicide, and for good reason.

Facing Deadly Discrimination

John Kelly
Director, MA, Second Thoughts
Director, NE, Not Dead Yet

“I emerged paralyzed below the shoulders. Individuals told me directly that they would rather be dead than like me, while movies and TV showed characters with my disability clamoring for death.” Since emerging paralyzed from a spinal cord injury more than 30 years ago, John has fought against a deadly cultural attitude: “you’re better dead than disabled.” With relatively privileged people pushing for "Death with Dignity" for themselves, less advantaged minorities and disabled people are destined to have their wishes sidelined as a cultural consensus forms that more care is "futile" or “too expensive.” Insurance companies have already declined to pay for life-saving treatments and offered assisted suicide instead. Assisted suicide bills ignore solutions like funded community-based home care and Medicare for all which is much more needed than a lethal prescription.

You are NOT a burden

Ruthie Poolen
President, M-POWER

As people with psychiatric disabilities, M-POWER members feel passionately about the right to self-determination. However, that is not what assisted suicide gives us.
It is not uncommon for people with disabilities and elders who may not be physically well to feel like they’re a burden on their families. Prescribing doctors in Oregon last year reported that more than half of program suicides felt like a burden on family, friends, or caregivers. Sadly, if physician assisted suicide were to become law in Massachusetts, some people may be coerced, either subtly or more obviously, by their families to agree to this.
Historically, people with psychiatric diagnoses have been subjected to all forms of legal and extra-legal coercion, often abetted by these same professionals. Gatekeeping professionals continue to underestimate our capabilities and block us from living our own lives. Based on these experiences, we cannot trust that counselors will have our best interests in mind when evaluating our motives for requesting assisted suicide.
At the same time, people in the midst of a severe depression can usually present as “unimpaired,” especially in a single meeting with an unknown counselor.
Those of us in M-POWER know that depression is insidious. We know that depression does impair judgment. As a therapist once told me, depression does not cause black and white thinking; it causes black and blacker thinking. Absolute hopelessness and seeing no way out are common feelings for those of us who have experienced severe depression. Personally, as someone who has been suicidal in the past, I can relate to the desire for “a painless and easy way out.” However, depression is treatable and reversible. Suicide is not.

A Cheap Substitute for Care

Stephanie Packer

"I was stunned that much cheaper lethal drugs would be available to me rather than treatment to save my life, but fortunately, I eventually received coverage for the treatment I sought.” When in 2016 Stephanie, 32 and a mother of 4, was diagnosed with scleroderma, the doctor gave her three years to live. When she requested that her insurance company help cover a new treatment for her disease, they denied her request, but upon being asked, reported that they would cover a lethal dose of drugs for a $1.20 copay under California’s assisted suicide law. Since 2016, Stephanie has been in and out of hospice, intermittently qualifying for assisted suicide laws. Assisted suicide laws incentivize insurance companies to offer coverage for the cheaper option— a lethal dose of drugs—rather than more expensive life-saving treatments."

Living Longer Than Prognosis

Tahni Morrell

My late husband, Paul, fought an 8 year battle against colorectal cancer. Six of those years were after being given a Stage 4 diagnosis. Paul lived far longer than any prognosis ever given to him by his skilled doctors at Dana Farber in Massachusetts where we live.
In fact, we even had an unexpected third child when his doctors said even that was not possible. Doctors’ prognosis are often inaccurate and patients can live much longer and fuller than ever expected. When he passed, leaving behind our 3 children, aged 10, 7 and 3, every unpredicted day of Paul’s life mattered.
In addition to cutting short his unpredicted longer life by an unnatural death, the further tragedy would have been all we would have lost that often only occurs during the very end stage of dying. In that time, even while on oxygen, weak and coughing throughout, Paul painstakingly made individual video tapes for our children expressing his love and hopes for them.
Paul and I cried together, prayed together, shared intimate conversations of love and forgiveness. Those conversations were so healing —and they never would have occurred like that in prior weeks when he was feeling stronger.
And as I saw Paul weaken, it helped me to loosen my desperate grip on my beloved husband and to be able to let him go as well. Soon thereafter, with hospice support and with our 10 year old daughter, Julia ---who later said that if her dad had taken a cocktail to die that it would have felt like a betrayal to her--- instead, she stroked his face and whispered, “Daddy, you can go home now; we will be okay. . “, and Paul passed painlessly and peacefully.
Truly, I tell you, there is so much profound purposefulness in the very final stages of dying. It was such a sacred process that I would have never wanted to cut short. Personally, I know that the subsequent grief that my children and I endured was immeasurably more uncomplicated and had more closure due to sharing in the natural process of death together.
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