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Sebastian's Point

Sebastian's Point is a weekly column written by one of our members regarding timely events or analysis of relevant ideas, which impact the Culture of Life. All regular members are invited to submit a column for publication at Columns should be between 800 to 1300 words and comply with the high standards expected in academic writing, including proper citations of authority or assertions referred to in your column. Please see, Submission Requirements for more details.

A Few Considerations Regarding the Fight Against Assisted Suicide

Skylar Covich, Ph.D.  |  09 January 2020

In this article, I will argue for the importance of maintaining outreach to Democrats who may consider opposing assisted suicide legalization. I will also highlight important state-level organizations that the Society of St Sebastian should support in the upcoming year.

This summer, the Society of St Sebastian published a journal article by me which examined the extent to which assisted suicide is a partisan issue by analyzing legislative votes in which the practice was legalized in California and New Jersey, and a defeated legalization attempt in Maryland. [1] As I was finishing the article, I neglected to add a new legalization bill passed in Maine, which like New Jersey, recently switched to Democratic control of the governorship. While a small group of Republicans had previously sponsored bills, Republicans remained united against the 2019 bill, LD 1313, while a dozen House Democrats and three Senate Democrats broke with their party leadership to vote against it. [2]

As I previously explained, pro-life Democrats and left-wing disability rights activists would be the most likely Democrats to ally within the cause of stopping assisted suicide. It is still possible to find more mainstream Democrats who are willing to vote against laws because they are willing to consider religious or ethical arguments on end of life care in ways they would not when it comes to other life issues. It is not easy for disability rights groups, or for pro-life and Christian medical ethics groups, to reach such Democrats, and it does not help that the wide field of Democratic presidential candidates are never confronted on the topic. ISideWith found front runners Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders took opposite positions on the Pain Relief Promotion Act of 2000, which would have banned assisted suicide federally; Biden was in favor while Sanders was opposed. These stances are perhaps not surprising, as Biden is the kind of Catholic Democrat who has shown willingness to oppose government funding of abortion in the past and invoke Catholic social teaching and pro-life rhetoric when convenient, while Sanders has had little association with groups like Not Dead Yet. But these records are also unsatisfactory when attempting to determine their current approaches, and evidence about the stances of other serious Democratic candidates is even thinner. [3]

To be clear, it is vital for Republicans to counteract conservative arguments favoring assisted suicide. Others, myself included (as outreach director for the American Solidarity Party) will remain outside either major party. It is understandable that most pro-lifers may not be called to work within the Democratic Party. But the largest state-level battles over assisted suicide will require cultivating Democratic support. Thus, all opponents of assisted suicide should join disability rights groups arguing from the Left, such as Not Dead Yet, as well as large umbrella groups such as Patients’ Rights Action, and consider donating to state-level coalitions.

Massachusetts has seen repeated attempts to legalize assisted suicide via court case, voter initiative, and legislation. The Massachusetts Patients’ Rights Council is opposing legalization bills which were referred to the Joint Public Health Committee in June 2019. There have been no further updates on these bills, but it is likely that the fight will continue this year. [4]

The New York Alliance Against Assisted Suicide is perhaps the most organized state group in the country. Knowing that new legislative attempts are on the horizon, the organization has active local chapters and frequent updates with personal stories of assisted suicide opponents, especially doctors and patients. [5]

Stop Assisted Suicide Maryland is also very much worthy of support. A November blog post did not mention specific plans for 2020, but it has vowed to be prepared to repeat the mobilization which resulted in the defeat of 2019’s legalization bill. [6] The Connecticut Patients’ Rights Council also deserves support and monitoring. [7]

One major disappointment over the last few years has been the tendency of state-level organizations to become less active when assisted suicide is passed in a state. CA Against Assisted Suicide has been rarely updated since shortly after legalization in California when a combination of lobbying legislators and mobilizing an initiative petition should have supplemented court challenges.[8] New Jersey’s Patients’ Rights Council appears to be in better shape but is still far less active than the organizations in states where assisted suicide may be legalized but where a bill has not yet passed. [9] Assisted suicide advocates have continued to add to their list of target states, passing or nearly passing bills in states where opposition was thought to be far too entrenched. Thus, opponents of assisted suicide should take the battle back to states where legalization has already happened, to show how important the issue is for all who care about a consistent ethic of life and ethical health care. Meanwhile, it is likely that as Democrats take over the legislatures in some more conservative states, it will be instructive to see how quickly the leaderships of state Democratic parties will try to make assisted suicide an issue.













Skylar Covich, Ph.D., received a doctorate in political science from the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he has taught courses on American interest groups and politics in American religion. His dissertation, 'Christianity and the Politics of Poverty in the United States,' compared actions by Catholic, mainline Protestant and evangelical organizations on economic policy. He currently serves on the National Committee of the American Solidarity Party.       

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