“Aid in Dying” movement taking hold

From The New York Times: 

Helping the terminally ill end their lives, condemned for decades as immoral, is gaining traction. Banned everywhere but Oregon until 2008, it is now legal in five states. Its advocates, who have learned to shun the term “assisted suicide,” believe that as baby boomers watch frail parents suffer, support for what they call the “aid in dying” movement will grow further.

In January, a district court in New Mexico authorized doctors to provide lethal prescriptions and declared a constitutional right for “a competent, terminally ill patient to choose aid in dying.” Last May, the Vermont Legislature passed a law permitting it, joining Montana, Oregon and Washington. This spring, advocates are strongly promoting “death with dignity” bills in Connecticut and other states.

Public support for assisted dying has grown in the past half-century but depends in part on terminology. In a Gallup Poll conducted in May, for example, 70 percent of respondents agreed that when patients and their families wanted it, doctors should be allowed to “end the patient’s life by some painless means.” In 1948, that share was 37 percent, and it rose steadily for four decades but has remained roughly stable since the mid-1990s.

Yet in the same 2013 poll, only 51 percent supported allowing doctors to help a dying patient “commit suicide.”

About 3,000 patients a year, from every state, contact the advocacy group Compassion & Choices for advice on legal ways to reduce end-of-life suffering and perhaps hasten their deaths.

Giving a fading patient the opportunity for a peaceful and dignified death is not suicide, the group says, which it defines as an act by people with severe depression or other mental problems.

But overt assistance to bring on death, by whatever name, remains illegal in most of the country. And so for Robert Mitton of Denver, 58 and with a failing heart, the news from New Mexico last month was bittersweet.

“I am facing my imminent death,” he said, asking why people in Montana and New Mexico “are able to die with dignity and I am not.”

“This should be a basic human right.”…

…Opponents say that actively ending a life, no matter how frail a person is, is a moral violation and that patients might be pushed to die early for the convenience of others.

“The church teaches that life is sacred from conception through to natural death,” Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan of Santa Fe, N.M., told legislators at a recent breakfast as he criticized the court decision there.

“This assisted-suicide thing concerns me,” Archbishop Sheehan added, according to The New Mexican. “I foresee dangerous consequences.”

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