Last month, Betsy Davis, a 41 year-old artist with ALS (or Lou Gehrig’s disease), e-mailed her friends to invite them to a party at the end of the month.

In the e-mail, Davis provided a detailed schedule of the two-day event – including the exact hour when she would ingest the drugs that would kill her, becoming one of the first to die under California’s new doctor-assisted suicide law.

“These circumstances are unlike any party you have attended before, requiring emotional stamina, centeredness and openness,” Davis wrote in the e-mail to her friends.

Advertising

The guests, who flew from New York, Chicago and across California to be with their friend, were told there were no rules – they could wear whatever they wanted, speak their mind, dance, chat, sing, pray. No rules, except one – no crying in front of Davis.

“For me and everyone who was invited, it was very challenging to consider, but there was no question that we would be there for her,” Niels Alpert, a cinematographer from New York City, told the Daily Mail.

“The idea to go and spend a beautiful weekend that culminates in their suicide — that is not a normal thing, not a normal, everyday occurrence. In the background of the lovely fun, smiles and laughter that we had that weekend was the knowledge of what was coming,” he said.

I cannot speak to the suffering and pain that Davis may have been experiencing. Lou Gehrig’s disease, also knows as ALS, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that causes sufferers of the disease to lose their ability to walk, speak, eat and, eventually breathe on their own.

But what’s troubling about the concept of end-of-life parties, however, is that the very people in a person’s life that should most want them to live are all gathered to cheer on that person’s death.

One common motivating factor that people cite as a reason to seek assisted suicide is that they do not wish to be a burden on their friends and family. But when physician-assisted suicide is enshrined in law, that sends a message to the terminally ill that their suicide is ok, and perhaps preferred.

“When someone’s standing on the ledge ready to jump, the natural human response…is to pull them back,” said Luke, a 19 year-old man who survived a suicide attempt in which he crashed his car at a high speed wearing no seatbelt.

Advertising

“With assisted suicide, the message is: Go ahead, jump,” he said.

In Oregon, where physician-assisted suicide has been legal since 1994, people with cancer have been denied treatment, but instead offered lethal prescriptions, because it is a cheaper option for the insurance company. This leads to tremendous pressure on seriously ill patients to kill themselves, and sows distrust between patients and their doctors who might then seek the cheapest rather than the best route of treatment.

Leading palliative care doctor Ira Byock said in an Op-Ed for the L.A. times that the message that comes with legalized assisted suicide matters.

“That sends a message,” Byock said. “If you’re terminally ill, it’s too expensive for us to continue to give you hospice care, but here’s this medication — go take care of yourself.”

“I think we’re better people than that.”

There are many other reasons to oppose assisted suicide. Among the groups most vocal about their opposition to legalized assisted suicide are disability rights groups, who argue that these laws discriminate against the disabled and can create pressure for them to end their own lives. Studies show that most people who initially request physician-assisted suicide withdraw their request once they are treated for depression.

Under many “right to die” bills, patients are given lethal pills and sent home – no doctor is required to be present at the time of death. There have been several cases of botched deaths in Oregon, where a patient’s doctor was not present during the assisted suicide. Oregon has seen many abuses since they legalized “Death with Dignity”: cases of pills changing hands, either intentionally or unknowingly, with lethal results.

In parts of Europe, where physician-assisted suicide has been legal for a while, doctors and family members can now make the decision to kill terminally ill patients.

These end-of-life parties, along with the glamourized Brittany Maynard and the good-looking-but-tragically-paralyzed Sam Claflin of the book and Hollywood film “Me Before You”, are just one more attempt to put lipstick on assisted suicide.

But please do not be fooled. There is nothing lovely about suicide – it is always a tragedy.

Earlier this month, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who is pro-life was asked by POLITICO Magazine about whether abortion should be allowed in situations where the fetus is at risk because of the Zika virus. He said that while he wouldn’t discount the suffering of a baby born with complications caused by Zika, that still could not justify the taking of a human life. His words could easily be applied in situations of whether or not our society should allow physician-assisted suicide:

“Obviously, microcephaly is a terrible prenatal condition that kids are born with. And when they are, it’s a lifetime of difficulties,” he said. “So I get it. I’m not pretending to you that that’s an easy question you asked me.”

“But if I’m going to err, I’m going to err on the side of life.”