Physician-assisted suicide is often depicted as a completely autonomous decision. Pro-PAS groups push for the idea that assisted suicide will “[give] us freedom and empowerment to set our own timeframe” with no pressure from outside sources.
Ironically, the legalization of assisted suicide introduces significant outside pressure into a patient’s decision – the pressure to end one’s life.
What is sold to the public as a “personal” choice is, in fact, not so personal. By making legal suicide a viable “medical option,” the question of an individual’s life and death becomes fair game for the scrutiny of societal cost-benefit analysis. The consequences are an unethical price tag on human life and pressure on the terminally ill to end their lives when they are no longer “worth” the cost.
A study conducted in Canada – where assisted suicide has been legal since June 2016 – illustrates how this plays out:
Assuming a low-cost scenario and standard end-of-life care (i.e., base-case analysis), we expect that net health care costs would be reduced by $33.2 million per year if 1% of deaths are due to medical assistance in dying […] if 80% of patients have their lives shortened by 1 month (rather than 1 wk), there would be an additional $5.7 million in health care savings, whereas if 80% of patients have their life expectancy shortened by only 1 week, the projected savings would be reduced by $11.3 million, or more than 30%.
On a small scale, one individual’s death by assisted suicide will save a few thousand dollars in insurance. On a grand scale, the country would save millions if we all chugged our respective lethal cocktails to avoid becoming “burdens” to society.
With the legalization of physician-assisted suicide, the terminally ill will run the risk of being pressured into taking lethal drugs for financial reasons, or risk being subjected to socially-reinforced shame for being a “costly burden.”
Alex Schadenberg, head of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, says that “this kind of study will create a new type of social pressure … The ‘new model of good citizen’ will now be the one who, falling seriously or terminally ill, realizes that it is a matter of public duty to die, and the sooner, the better.”
Life should not be given a price tag. The question of life and death should not be a financial one that, moreover, has a different answer for the most vulnerable. If living becomes costlier than dying, it’s not the privileged who will suffer from it, but the poor, the elderly and the disabled.
Considering this, then, physician-assisted suicide isn’t increasing personal freedom and autonomy. It’s exploiting the defenseless, depersonalizing humans and replacing personal value with monetary value.