Promoting Suicide during an Apocalypse
by J. David Franks, Ph.D.
Chairman of the Board, Massachusetts Citizens for Life
The coronavirus pandemic and the protests against police brutality have an apocalyptic air about them, but “apocalypse” means, in fact, the unveiling of what is already there. And what has been revealed to those not on the margins is a preexisting condition of grotesque, and lethal, inequity for those on the margins—but exacerbated by the revealing crisis itself.
A new draft of pending physician-assisted suicide legislation (Bill S.2745) has, under cover of lockdown, broken through in the Massachusetts legislature, being favorably reported out of the Joint Committee on Public Health to the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing.
Promoting this legislation in the midst of a pandemic in which at least 40% of the victims have been elderly persons living in long-term care facilities shocks the conscience.
Our very first concern when lockdown orders were handed down should have been to lavish massive resources on long-term elder-care facilities. Instead we did what we have done all along: we ignored, with deadly callousness, the plight of the old—even though the economy was, presumably, being shut down for their sake in particular. Remarkably, some governors even sent recovering COVID patients into nursing homes.
If such illogical and lethally ageist disregard for the value of elderly persons could occur in these extraordinary circumstances, it should perhaps not be surprising that legislation which would intensify a public-health emergency predating COVID-19 has found its ironic moment of glory.
Despite ideological word games, physician-assisted suicide is still what it is: suicide. And suicide has been epidemic in America for a long time now, ending the lives of more than 47,000 in 2017—a 33% increase over the previous two decades. Suicide is an American public-health crisis, and it is only getting worse.
In fact, the crisis is intensifying before our very eyes in long-term elder-care facilities. As Dr. Louise Aronson wrote in The New York Times:
“Earlier this month, a colleague who heads the geriatrics service at a prominent San Francisco hospital told me they had begun seeing startling numbers of suicide attempts by older adults. These were not cry-for-help gestures, but true efforts to die by people using guns, knives and repurposed household items.
“Such so-called ‘failed suicides’ turn out to be the most extreme cases of a rapidly growing phenomenon among older Americans as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic: lives stripped of human contact, meaningful activity, purpose and hope that things will get better in a time frame that is relevant to people in the last decades or years of life.”
Despite this, now is the time that the ruling elite on Beacon Hill pushes legislation forward promoting suicide among the elderly in particular.
Rather than a serious campaign to deal with social despair (so often tied to economic factors) and rather than increasing resources to treat depression, that is, rather than systemically confronting the public-health crisis of suicide (especially among the old, given the burden of the COVID pandemic), the supporters of this legislation would rather surrender that most exposed ground to suicide.
Rather than addressing staffing shortages and other horrors in elder-care facilities, problems which have been studied, but which require a battle with the rapacious nursing-home lobby to address, supporters of this legislation would rather be working with that lobby to convert the premature death of the elderly into increased margins for corporate overlords (like the parasitism of Snowpiercer).
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed fundamental inequities in our social system in general and in our healthcare system in particular: the elderly and poor minorities have been especially hard hit.
It was edifying to listen to those suffering poverty and people of color testify before the Public Health Committee last year as they tried to communicate, to legislators who occupy a different social position in this world, how fearful they were of legislation that would give, say, health-insurance companies the option to deny coverage for actual medicines in favor of a newly designated “medical” option: “aid in dying.” They have suffered denials of care all their lives; they know assisted suicide will increase the deadliness of systemic injustice.
Sadly, supporters of assisted suicide could not hear through their privilege. And the apocalypse has not woken them up. They have acted with astonishing irresponsibility [in voting S.2745 favorably out of committee].
Yours, for Life,
Join MCFL now and make give voice to those with no voice by calling your legislator and asking them to oppose "An Act Relative to End of Life Options" (S.2745).
Use the main State House number and request your representative by giving your zip code:
617 722 2000
Access key facts about this anti-life bill here: Key Facts, S.2745
Read the Mass. Citizens for Life media advisory about S.2745 here.