American suicide networks for the elderly exposed in US TV doco

The PBS television network screened a documentary on the “surprisingly coordinated underground world of assisted suicide” in the United States this week. Director and writer Miri Navasky told the PBS blog:

“We were completely surprised to find out that there are groups in this country that help people to die -- even in states where assistance is not legal. Although we knew of Compassion & Choices, the right-to-die group spearheading the legalization efforts in the country, we had no idea of the extent of their end-of-life consultation program across the country. During our initial research meetings, when we followed the Compassion & Choices counselors and patients, it was eye-opening to learn just how detailed the information is that they provide.”

PBS focuses on the Final Exit Network, a group of elderly volunteers who attend the deaths of people who die with the help of helium hoods. One of the men told PBS that he had attended hundreds of suicides across the country. A lawyer coaches them on how to stay on the right side of the law (“don’t touch anything”).

Ms Navasky points out the inconsistency in American attitudes towards assisted suicide. On the one hand, it is legal only in two states, Oregon and Washington. On the other, it is very hard to prosecute and convict people who participate in a suicide.

“Not only are the laws vague, and they tend, perhaps purposefully, not to clearly define "assistance." But even when it seems that someone has violated the letter of law, juries are often reluctant to convict, especially when a person is clearly acting out of compassion.”

This article is published by Michael Cook and under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

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