Success story: Legalized killing shot down in Maryland

In one of the most epic U.S. Senate hearing exchanges in modern history, then-secretary Hillary Clinton practically yelled at her questioner, "What difference, at this point, does it make?!"

While she was being questioned about a specific event, I found myself wondering how many people think that what they do has no consequence or impact.  Some would say my job, crafting and forwarding policies supporting human flourishing for people with disabilities, is boring and inconsequential — possibly even futile.  It is not.  As a wonk and an advocate, I have an opportunity to make a positive impact daily.  

As proof, I recently testified before members of both chambers of the Maryland state Legislature about a proposed bill that would be harmful to people with disabilities and chronic illness.  Medical Aid in Dying (MAiD), a term that includes physician-assisted suicide (PAS) and euthanasia, is legal in eleven jurisdictions and under consideration in eleven states.  It very nearly became law in Maryland. 

Wrapped in eloquent prose, the Maryland legislation was presented as being about bodily autonomy and shortening the suffering of the terminally ill.  But the law had several problems.  There were no safeguards to prevent family coercion or the targeting of vulnerable patients, including those with disabilities.  It puts confidence and trust that should exist between a patient and health care provider at risk.  Essentially, life is devalued — not considered worth living if a person was in pain or had a condition seen as diminishing the quality of his life or of those around him.

The intended and unintended consequences of MAiD, especially for those who cannot self-advocate in their moment of need, are frightening.

One supporter told me: "Families need to be able to do what is best for them."  I asked if that meant caring for her sick great uncle was too much of a burden, and it would be more convenient for him just to die.  Without flinching, she nodded her head vigorously.

We have become a nation of people who don't want to deal with hard things like suffering and death, so we seek to hide or dispatch them as quickly as possible.  We see no value in sitting with a dying loved one and sharing those final moments with him.  We see no purpose in suffering and have no interest in the strength of character it can build in the patient and those around him.  These are lessons and beautiful experiences we are choosing to miss. 

If the law were only about ending the suffering of someone already in the final stages of dying, I might be persuaded about some MAiD allowances.  But it isn't, and I am not.  Even if it were, hospice care is better than ever — with pain management being a top priority until death of the patient. 

In places where euthanasia is already law, the parameters of eligibility are being widened to include such things as depression and anorexia.  In Canada, a man even applied for the MAiD program because he was homeless!  None of these things is terminal if treated properly.  And it can get worse as doctors are beginning to order lethal medications through telehealth consultations.  Insurance companies are leaning more toward paying for it than for treatments that could extend or save lives. 

Because of the advocacy of many people who seem to have had nothing in common before, Maryland's MAiD bill failed to pass out of committee.  Those who understood the dangers banded together.  Their advocacy mattered.  I was proud to be a part of that group. 

With many more disability policy debates on the horizon, it is critical that we stay banded together to advocate for what is right, for what is moral, and for what honors the valuable lives some are so eager to snuff out.

Able Americans is a program of the National Center for Public Policy Research.  We believe in the same inalienable rights that are enshrined in our founding documents: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  We work daily on policies that support people with disabilities in America to live, be free, and chase their dreams.  Advocacy like this matters — especially in Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island, where pending euthanasia laws are putting more lives at risk.

Melissa Ortiz serves the National Center for Public Policy Research as the organization's senior adviser for the Able Americans Project.  In her role, she will develop the project's strategic plan, marshals key resources, and helps oversee the implementation of the project.  She also assists the president in identifying necessary contractors, employees, strategic partners, stakeholders, and donors and serves as a key spokesperson.

Melissa identifies as a "happy warrior" and is enthusiastic about driving a dialogue between people living with disabilities or chronic illness and policy-makers across the political spectrum, especially conservatives.  She has worked in the classroom in Nashville, Tennessee and in the nonprofit sector in New York City and Washington, D.C.  She was honored to serve as President Trump's commissioner of the Administration on Disabilities.  The first female board member of The Conservative Caucus, one of the oldest conservative groups in existence, she currently resides in Washington, D.C. with her husband Tony and service dog Dachshund Annie Oakley.

Image via Hippopx.

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