"I'm impressed, this hearing is bringing me back to the way things felt in the nineties in Oregon....I actually ended up seeing the patient who got the first prescription for aid-in-dying in early '98."
Dr. Peter Reagan, Medical Director, Oregon's Pro-Euthanasia Organization, "Compassion & Choices"
More than 2 hours of testimony were heard at the Tennessee Legislature last week as members of the state Senate Health Committee met in special session to study SB 1362 by state Senator Reginald Tate (D-Memphis.) Sharing his reasons for bringing the bill, Senator Tate explained his indebtedness to Mr. Hooker for his role in civil rights leadership and felt a responsibility to stand for Mr. Hooker's "right" to doctor-assisted suicide.
"I could add a lot of adjectives or modify this racial struggle for whatever it was, come up with some organizations and try to redo whatever I wanted to do. But the bottom line is the bottom line. And that's all that we're dealing with or trying to offer here is a perspective from an individual with life, in right mind, for a right. And that's basically what this legislative is about."
As drafted, SB 1362 would legalize the practice of doctor-assisted suicide without regulation and establish Tennessee as a destination for individuals wishing to end their lives. Only 3 other states currently allow the practice including Oregon, Washington and Vermont. Across the nation, a diverse coalition of groups oppose legalization based largely on concerns that the so-called 'right to die' will become a 'duty to die,' especially for society's weakest and most vulnerable including the disabled, elderly and ill.
In addition to Mr. Hooker, who ran unsuccessfully for Governor and calls his current effort the "most important thing I've ever done", testimony in support of legalizing assisted suicide was given by Vanderbilt philosophy professor Dr. John Lachs, and Dr. Peter Reagan who leads pro-assisted suicide efforts in Oregon. Professor Lachs expressed his view that "there is no fundamental distinction between passive and active euthanasia because the purpose that animates both is the purpose of letting the person expire or helping the person expire. And so long as the purpose of... two acts is the same, they're pretty much the same act."
Asked if any of Oregon's 1,500 patients who were prescribed doctor-assisted suicide had survived, Dr. Reagan shared that only one had taken the massive overdose of drugs and had awakened. "The one person woke all the way up, lived two weeks, died of natural causes, didn't request to do it again. And, oh, by the way, was perfectly intact...woke up neurologically fine."
Joining in opposition to SB 1362 were Carol Westlake, Director of the Tennessee Disability Coalition, Josue Rodriquez of the Memphis chapter of Not Dead Yet, Dr. David Stevens of the Tennessee-based American Academy of Medical Ethics and Will Brewer, Legislative Liaison for Tennessee Right to Life.
"If doctor-prescribed suicide is legalized in Tennessee, it could become the only 'medical treatment' to which many people have equal access," said
Brewer. "If the government or insurance companies decide they no longer wish to pay for legitimate care and medical treatments, there will be a pressure upon the elderly, ill and disabled to end their lives. Being coerced into ending their lives does not offer death with dignity, it only offers a frightening and dangerous future for elderly and ill Tennesseans.
The meeting of the state Senate committee was for the sole purpose of hearing testimony and a similar study committee may be convened in the state House. Legislators have indicated the bill may be scheduled for a vote when the General Assembly opens again in January.