C H N  Cycle of life, death must be protected

 

Cycle of life, death must be protected Bridget Johnson, Columnist
LA Daily NewsArticle Last Updated:03/26/2007 07:49:24 PM PDT

LAST week, well-known L.A. writer Cathy Seipp died after a five-year battle with lung cancer. (Like Dana Reeve, she was a nonsmoker.) During the several times I ran into her at events over the past few years, she was by far one of the most dignified people in the room. Toward the end, when Cathy noted she couldn't get to the bank by herself, what could be written off as a demise of dignity instead was a showcase for the best in humanity: Friends saw to it that dinner was cooked for her, that the dog was walked, that she had company in chemo.

At the end, Cathy's lungs collapsed and she was made comfortable with pain medication. "The doctor says she has a couple days left," her daughter Maia wrote on Cathy's blog from the hospital, thanking all of her mother's readers and friends. "Through you all, I learned what a true friend was."

Cathy peacefully passed the next day. Far from being some portrait of a terminal illness robbing a person of dignity, everybody who knew or read Cathy reaped valuable lessons of love and friendship in her last days. Her dignity only grew, if that was possible, as she faced the end with courage and grace.

Hence it seems fitting that this is the week when California again wanders into that moral morass called assisted suicide, and the ubiquitous catchphrase "death with dignity."

Assembly Bill 374, modeled after Oregon's law, allows someone told he or she has less than six months to live to take a fatal prescription. In one corner are Democratic sponsors backed by the California Association of Physicians Groups (which represents HMOs). In the other are groups representing the disabled who fear the ramifications of such a bill.

"The public must know what this would do to the most vulnerable of our society - a quick hundred-dollar lethal prescription is vastly cheaper than offering long-term care," said Marilyn Golden, policy analyst at the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund.

Invariably, when society decides that some life is less valuable, less worth caring for, than other life, the results can be disastrous. Some "merciful" laws have descended into involuntary euthanasia as well, resting on the argument of keeping those humans around who would have an acceptable "quality of life." After the Netherlands legalized euthanasia in 2000 for 12-year-olds and up, the Groningen Protocol was established to ensure doctors wouldn't be prosecuted for killing infants they deemed not fit to live.

"My observations in the Netherlands persuade me that legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia are not the answer to the problems of the seriously or terminally ill," wrote Dr. Herbert Hendin, executive director of the American Suicide Foundation, in Psychiatric Times.

"The Netherlands has moved from assisted suicide to euthanasia, from euthanasia for the terminally ill to euthanasia for the chronically ill, from euthanasia for physical illness to euthanasia for psychological distress and from voluntary euthanasia to involuntary euthanasia (called `termination of the patient without explicit request')."

"Assisted suicide" is just semantics for a doctor prescribing the means to die versus the doctor administering the means to die. Regardless of the name, regardless of the method, the profession designated to care for the weakest crosses the line into doing harm.

As we remember friends who passed with grace, courage and unshakable dignity, let's also remember this week to remind our legislators of their duty to protect the inherently dignified cycle of natural life and death.

Bridget Johnson writes for the Daily News. Write to her by e-mail her at bridget.johnson@dailynews.com.

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