State Rep. Melissa Shusterman (D-Chester/Montgomery) is backing a bill to legalize euthanasia in the Keystone State.
The legislation is modeled on Oregon’s so-called “Death With Dignity” law, advocates say. It would require patients who use assisted suicide to be terminally ill with less than six months to live. Those who are not terminal or are mentally ill would be prohibited from using it.
“Individuals with terminal illnesses are often in tremendous pain and continue to be until their last breath,” said Shusterman. “These individuals should have the right to choose what is best for them, even if that choice is to end their lives peacefully and on their own terms. We want to provide a medical option for the terminally ill and also ensure safeguards are in place to prevent abuse.”
Oregon’s law permits terminally ill patients to take a lethal dose of medication prescribed by a physician. They must be terminally ill with less than six months to live.
Other sponsors include Philadelphia Reps. Tarik Khan, Christopher Rabb, and Jose Giral along with Mark Rozzi of Berks and Carol Hill-Evans of York.
The proposal faces plenty of pushback, even within Shusterman’s own party.
“Where is the Hippocratic Oath, ‘First, do no harm,’ in the Pennsylvania House?” asks The Rev. William Devlin, Ph.D. a former Philadelphia Democratic committeeman who lives in Upper Moreland.
“These legislators not only have a penchant for the death of those who are elderly, and perhaps the young with a terminally ill disease, but they also have a penchant for death for unborn children. Sadly, their philosophy and penchant for the aroma of death should constitutionally and legislatively be rejected.”
The legislation’s sponsors released a statement calling their approach “compassionate.”
“Our legislation would legalize compassionate aid in dying for terminally ill Pennsylvanians. These individuals, facing unbearable and unrelieved suffering in their final days, would be able to request a prescription that would end their life in a dignified, humane manner that respects the individual’s autonomy and self-determination,” they wrote.
Local pro-life activist and frequent DVJournal contributor Christine Flowers disagreed.
“As someone who watched a beloved father fight for his life, finding value even in the darkest moments of his final, prolonged journey, and as a woman who sees value in life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death, I am repelled and horrified by the nihilism of these legislators.
“They are not speaking the language of compassion, but rather the language of expedience,” Flowers added.
Critics also point to reports that Oregon’s law has turned it into America’s first ‘Death Tourism’ destination with people traveling to take advantage of the assisted suicide policy.
“Oregon’s nascent ‘death tourism’ industry, and efforts to create another in Vermont, show how the U.S. is on a slippery slope to following in Canada’s footsteps—where lax rules have allowed people with so little as hearing loss to be euthanized,” writes the Daily Mail.
That country’s first euthanasia laws were similar to those in some states and the proposed Pennsylvania law, which would limit euthanasia to the terminally ill. But the practice soon expanded. Canada now may extend the deadly practice to the mentally ill, the disabled, and even children.
There are also concerns that once assisted suicide is in place, patients near the end of their natural life may face pressure to accept a premature death.
Tom Stevens, executive director of the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia, said his organization will “vigorously” oppose this legislation.
“We’re very concerned about bills like this,” said Stevens. “Basically, it’s misdirected compassion. As soon as you start to say somebody’s life is so terrible that they would be better off dead, it’s an extremely slippery, slippery slope.”