Race & Physician Assisted Suicide

Is physician-assisted suicide only for white people? That is a question that came to mind when reading a recent Washington Post article by Fenit Nirappil that reports on the proposed “Right to Die” law in Washington, D.C.  The law is drawing opposition from members of the African American community.

The Post article quotes a Georgetown Law School professor, Patricia King, who states, “Historically, African Americans have not had a lot of control over their bodies, and I don’t think offering them assisted suicide is going to make them feel more autonomous.” In other words, the law would have no benefit for those who already feel a high level of skepticism about the current medical system. Interestingly, the article also reports that only “one African American has chosen to exercise the provisions of the law in Oregon, which became the first state in the country with such a law in 1997.”

The concerns reported in the article are worth consideration. For some members of the African American community, the law brings back painful reminders of the Tuskegee experiments. For others, it is a reminder that many in their community lack resources to receive the best treatment available. A recent article in the Daily Caller  quotes D.C. Council member Brianne Nadeau: “Those with least access to quality health care are most likely to get a late-stage terminal diagnosis . . . They’re least likely to have coverage for expensive interventions. I believe they’ll also be most likely to consider this option as their best option, even if it’s not.”

It’s not clear whether or not the issue will become law in D.C. However, it is wise for the council members to listen to the concerns of their community.

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