NASHVILLE — A Bible Belt state is among the latest to consider legalizing assisted suicide, in part due to the efforts of an activist who asserts that the choice to end one’s life is the “ultimate civil right.”
On Tuesday, those both for and against physician assisted suicide spent two hours presenting their thoughts about the matter before legislators in Tennessee’s state capitol.
“We think it’s humane to euthanize an animal when they get to the point they can’t take care of themselves. Why can’t we do the same for people?” asked Dr. Douglas Essinger before the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. “What about the patients’ rights to die with dignity? I think that should be the paramount issue here.”
Activist John Jay Hooker, 84, also spoke to legislators, advocating for the practice as he himself is fighting terminal cancer.
“If we have the power to seek happiness, guaranteed by our own Constitution, then we have the power to take our own lives when they become no longer tolerable,” he said.
But others argued that assisted suicide is not the answer to pain and suffering. Jose Rodriguez of the Memphis Center for Independent Living, who has cerebral palsy, told those gathered that it is wrongful to think that one is better off dead than being dependent on others.
“Alleviating suffering is different from eliminating the sufferer,” he said, according to the Associated Press.
State Rep. John Lundberg, R-Bristol, made similar statements.
“When you talk about euthanasia I don’t like that. I think us as a state [we should] try to give people hope and opportunities, not death,” he stated.
The matter has not yet come up for a vote.
The hearing comes just days after the California Senate voted to approve a bill legalizing the practice. As previously reported, SB 128, also known as the “End of Life Option Act,” was passed by the Democrat-controlled state Senate on Thursday in a 23-13 vote.
The measure, which was inspired by Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old San Francisco Bay Area resident who moved to Oregon to kill herself last year after being diagnosed with brain cancer, was modeled after Oregon’s “Death with Dignity Act” that has been in place in the state since 1997.
Maynard, who killed herself in November 2014, and her family lobbied for the California legislation.
A report released earlier this year by First Things notes the recent rise in suicide in European countries that have legalized physician-assisted suicide.
“In those countries that have legalized euthanasia (Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg) the numbers seeking the procedure are spiraling ever upward,” it explained. “In 2013 there were 1,087 cases of euthanasia in Belgium, up 27 percent on the figures for 2012, while 2012 saw a 25 percent increase on the numbers for 2011. In Holland, it has been estimated that 12.3 percent of all deaths are now via euthanasia.”
“[R]ecent incidents included one woman with an eating disorder, and another claiming to be suffering from tinnitus left behind two teenage children,” it continued. “Many living in countries where it is outlawed are now taking part in the macabre phenomenon known as ‘suicide tourism.’ So in Switzerland—where assisted suicide is permitted—the number of cases rose 700 percent within roughly a decade, having been boosted by foreigners making the journey to end their lives.”