The 1976 dystopian science fiction film Logan’s Run has an interesting premise as well as introducing my libido to a soon to be famous Farrah Fawcett. The basic story of Logan’s Run is a microcosm of America’s culture of youth. It is simply this: When people reach the age of 30 they are “recycled” to make way for the vibrantly young and the plot is about how people try to cheat death to live beyond 30.
The United States is in a tug of war over the issue of end of life. A research article published in Health Affairs in July of 2017 reports that 25 percent of total Medicare expenses are spent in the last year of life. That’s $125 billion every year; mainly because we go through Herculean efforts to keep people, who have no chance of recovery, alive just a little bit longer. Several states have legalized advanced care planning with end of life support; some have gone a step farther.
Three states have legalized assisted suicide through the ballot initiative process (Colorado, Oregon, Washington), Washington D.C. and five states (California, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, Vermont) have authorized it through legislation and Montana’s State Supreme Court declared it a right for the citizens of their state.
The idea has growing support; 72 percent of Americans, in a recent Gallup poll, agreed that doctors should be able to “end the patient’s life by some painless means” if they have an incurable disease and 65 percent say that doctors should be allowed to “assist the patient to commit suicide if the patient requests it.”
Incurable disease and terminal illness are not synonymous. Many treatable conditions, like diabetes, are “incurable” but not necessarily terminal. Likewise, a patient requesting suicide may not be making that request from any immutable physical medical condition but, as in many infamous cases of “Dr. Death” Jack Kervorkian, they may be depressed or in temporary, albeit painful, distress.
Other nations already have physician-assisted suicide. The Netherlands has the “Groningen Protocol,” which is a checklist that doctors go through to determine if a patient’s life is “fulfilling;” euthanasia is allowed there on infants whose parents feel, after they’ve seen the baby, that the child doesn’t have “a life worth living.” There have been anecdotes regarding elderly patients shuffled off on their relatives’ request or even by doctors unilaterally because in their opinion, without the permission of the person being killed, those lives “lack quality.” Assisted suicide advocates may feel they are being noble in their pursuit of this “right,” but it is a tremendously slippery slope down the sinister path toward eugenics.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 15 percent of Americans were over age 65 in 2014. That percentage will rise to 21 percent in 2030 and by 2035 Americans over 65 will outnumber those under 18 for the first time in our history. According to studies by Harvard Medical School and the RAND Corporation, by 2025 the United States will have a shortage of 500,000 home health aides meaning more elderly will have no alternative but nursing homes.
According to Genworth’s Cost of Care Survey, the average price of a semi-private nursing home room in South Dakota is $80,000 a year. South Dakota has a law on the books making adult children responsible for these costs if their elderly parents cannot pay. One need not be proficient in prognostication to see that the confluence of increasing numbers of elderly combined with higher related aging costs, tight budgets and a desire to control taxation along with massively crushing debt responsibilities potentially befalling adult children all could inevitably lead to “humane” decisions to rush Mom’s meeting with her Maker in the name of “mercy.”
The legislature should resist any attempt to legalize assisted suicide. The answer is palliative care and pain management. There are some things best left to God and you’ll be glad in the Logan’s Run that you did.