Before the New Jersey State Senate
Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee
December 15, 2014
Dear Chairman Vitale, Members of the Committee,
My name is Anita Teresa Cameron, and I am testifying against the assisted suicide bill, S382. I am angry, disappointed and dismayed that you and the Committee refused to hear testimony from people with disabilities, so I am taking this opportunity to send mine.
I am a person with multiple, severe, potentially terminal disabilities, but more importantly, I am a writer, blogger, emergency management specialist, member of ADAPT, a national, grassroots national disability rights organization, and member of the board of directors of Not Dead Yet.
I am fervently against S382, indeed, against ANY bill that promotes ANY form of assisted suicide. Suicide is a personal, intimate choice that is already legal; there is no need to codify it.
Legalizing assisted suicide puts people with disabilities and seniors at great risk because we can be coerced by dishonest, greedy and/or abusive family members, caretakers or heirs into ending our lives when we really don't want to.
Though assisted suicide is meant to be for those considered terminal, too often, people with disabilities have been diagnosed as terminal when in fact, we are not. The very vast majority of doctors do not see, nor are they trained to see the lives of people with disabilities as lives worth living.
For example, in 1999, my father had a heart attack which left him with a global brain injury because he went 11 minutes without oxygen to his brain. Though expected to die, he did not. He was sent to a famous rehab facility, but they would not deal with him due to the lack of what they termed, his quality of life and they forced us to place him in a nursing home. Though he was there only 13 days, the neglect he suffered almost took his life and we moved to get him out of the nursing home and to get him the treatment he needed to save his life and to bring him home. He needed surgeries to correct conditions that he acquired in the nursing home, but were repeatedly denied this by doctors, who kept saying that he had no quality of life.
Indeed, three doctors tried to persuade my mother to simply let him die because, as they confided to her, he was no longer the man he once was - he was now "useless" because he was severely disabled and could no longer care for himself. Fortunately, we were able to find a doctor who would do the surgeries and treatments my dad needed and we had him with us for another seven years.
My dad's story is one of the reasons that I am against assisted suicide and against S382 and bills like it because:
2. It is far less costly to offer people the option to kill themselves, rather than treat them for their conditions; there are documented accounts of insurance companies refusing to pay for life saving chemotherapy, and offering instead to pay for lethal drugs for the person to kill themselves with.
3. People who want to kill themselves don't want to do it because they are in pain - not, that is, not the most compelling reason. They want to die because they feel that they will lose their autonomy and they don't want to be a burden to their families - issues that are related to disability.
I live in pain every day of my life; it's the nature of my disabilities. Some days, it's pretty unbearable, but if it ever gets to the point where it is totally unbearable, I will seek palliative care and pain relief that doesn't involve death.
Bills such as S382 and the one that they are planning in my state of Colorado are dangerous because people who have disabilities or are sick can be pressured to kill themselves. There are no effective safeguards to prevent this, indeed, there can really be no safeguards. The bill and any like it are inherently discriminatory because some people get suicide prevention, while others don't. If you are nondisabled and healthy, you get suicide prevention and if you kill yourself, it is considered a tragedy, but if you have disabilities or are sick, you get offered assisted suicide and your death is seen as an act of courage and you exercising "choice". If we are not careful, these laws will lead to euthanasia laws turn the "choice" to die into the duty to die.
Thank you for your attention.