I was reading with interest about the recent vote by California’s legislature to legalize physician-assisted suicide. Just as nobody should be free to take the life of another, nobody should be forced to live in pain when they no longer wish to. Opponents to the bill based their opposition on the concern that “death with dignity” laws would be used to coerce poor people into foregoing expensive treatment or care at the end of their lives. Here’s a passage from Ian Lovett’s New York Times article on the vote:
“As soon as this is introduced, it immediately becomes the cheapest and most expedient way to deal with complicated end-of-life situations,” Dr. Kheriaty said. “You’re seeing the push for assisted suicide from generally white, upper-middle-class people, who are least likely to be pressured. You’re not seeing support from the underinsured and economically marginalized. Those people want access to better health care.”
This is a classic example of a false dichotomy. This is not truly an either/or situation, even though it’s being portrayed as one. We should not be forced to choose between high quality affordable health care for all and personal autonomy over the ends of our lives. We must fight for both. Each is an essential component of a truly just system.
False dichotomies, or false choices, are distractions from the real work we need to do to make our lives happier, our communities stronger, and our societies better places for everyone. Worse, they often pit groups against one another when those groups would better achieve their goals if they worked together. Take a look at Dr. Kheriaty’s statement above. I’m sure that the demographic characterization is accurate, and certainly the outcome he is foreshadowing would be a terrible one. But to suggest that this is an either/or situation is to accept a level of injustice that none of us should be willing to accept.