Death via Zoom: Assisted suicide and telehealth
By Deborah Stilt — The CONNECT for Health Act of 2021 proposes expanding the use of telehealth across America. While this will make healthcare more accessible, imprecise language in the legislation may enable assisted suicide remotely, even in states where it’s illegal, putting an already vulnerable population at further risk.
During the COVID-19 crisis, the department of Health and Human Services temporarily lifted restrictions on telehealth services to allow patients to access to vital healthcare while they were isolating at home. Now, legislators are seeking to solidify these changes at the federal level through the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act, which has been introduced in both the Senate and the House with bi-partisan support (S. 1512 and H.R. 2903). This act waives requirements and permanently removes all geographic restrictions on telehealth services.
It can certainly be argued that telehealth improves access to healthcare, particularly for those in remote areas. However, as currently worded, the CONNECT for Health Act would provide access to any healthcare “service” that is legal in any state, overriding state restrictions. This would not only permit doctors to assess patients and prescribe lethal drugs remotely in states where assisted suicide is already legal, it would also open the door for them to market their “services” across state lines.
Sara Buscher, Chair of Euthanasia Prevention Coalition USA, had this to say:
“Serious life and death discussions with a doctor should not be decided in a phone call or over Zoom! Bills now introduced in Congress would allow assisted suicide and euthanasia by telehealth, which might be the means of making them available nationally.”
Federal healthcare regulation and terminology must not permit approving and/or prescribing death. The CONNECT for Health Act must be amended to include clear language that prevents assisted suicide by telehealth.
The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition Intl. and Euthanasia Prevention Coalition USA are sponsoring a petition asking leaders in Congress to amend S.1512 and H.R. 2903 to include clear language prohibiting the use of telehealth in assisted suicide. You can sign the petition here.
Using COVID-19 to exploit the vulnerable
For several years, the assisted suicide lobby has been promoting the use of telehealth for approving lethal drug cocktails to help people commit suicide, with varying degrees of success. In March, 2020, the American Clinicians Academy on Medical Aid in Dying attempted to further legitimize the practice by establishing an official telehealth policy in the context of the COVID-19 crisis, based on guidelines offered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Their committee concluded:
“There is nothing inherent in an aid-in-dying request that prohibits or discourages the use of telemedicine. In fact, in present circumstances of potential contagion, increased use of telemedicine is encouraged.”
“Nothing inherent”—except the possibility of misdiagnosing the patient because no physical exam takes place. With an estimated 12 million Americans misdiagnosed each year, this is a legitimate concern. How many people “choose” death believing they are terminally ill, when in fact they are not?
This isn’t hypothetical – assisted suicide via telehealth is already happening
U.S. assisted suicide laws do not require a doctor or other health care provider to be present at the time of the suicide. In fact, some doctors have been exporting death to vulnerable patients in remote areas for years. According to the American Clinicians Academy on Medical Aid in Dying “some” death doctors also consult the patient’s primary physician—which also means that some do not.
Without a volunteer or doctor present, families are expected assume an “active role” in the dying process, which in effect, means adult children killing their own parents through preparing and administering lethal drugs. In the US, this typically consists of a compound of four drug powders—digoxin, diazepam, morphine, and amitriptyline—to be mixed with juice or water. Within minutes of drinking the cocktail, the patient falls asleep, the sleep progresses to a coma, and eventually the person’s heart stops. And while marketed as painless, data published by the state of Oregon reveals that 5% of patients experienced difficulties, such as regurgitation or seizures after ingestion of the lethal cocktail.
The slippery slope of false compassion
Always positioned as a “compassionate” solution to prevent suffering from terminal disease, assisted suicide instead preys on the elderly, the disabled, the lonely, and those with mental health conditions. The purported “safeguards” inevitably get pushed aside as advocates cast an ever-widening net for those whose lives they consider not worth living. The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated this problem, with rampant elder neglect due to COVID-19 restrictions and the general push for death as a “cure” to end suffering.
But to accept assisted suicide is to accept the idea that life is only worth living if one is healthy, young, and able-bodied. This Utilitarian worldview insists that human dignity is subjective–dependent on one’s ability to contribute to society. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Real dignity for the dying
All human beings possess inherent worth and dignity by virtue of the fact we are created in the image of God. This value is immutable and cannot change based on our age, stage of life, condition of health, or any other factor. No matter how well-intentioned, deliberately facilitating death in order to prevent suffering violates this principle.
Instead, we can affirm the value of the dying by coming alongside them to help them live out the time they have in the best way possible.
To learn more about how the Personhood Alliance stands for human life and human dignity, without exception and without compromise, subscribe to our email list.
Deborah Stilt is the vice president of Personhood Alliance Education and the social media coordinator for the Personhood Alliance. She has been active in pro-life media and foster care advocacy for several years. But most importantly, she’s a California mom who is fighting against the lies of the culture and for the protection of every human being without exception.