Five years ago, my husband and I made the decision to move from Virginia back into the District, just months before we welcomed our first child. Today we are expecting our third, with no plans to leave. My daughter attends our local public school, we are members of our local parish, and I am on the board of our co-op. We traded a fence and a yard for 1,400 square feet in Ward 3, and we love our city life.
When I learned last year that the city government was considering an assisted-suicide bill, I was appalled. As a young mother, the thought of raising my children in an environment of state-approved suicide was terrifying. When I learned that my own representative, Councilwoman Mary Cheh (D), was the sponsor of a bill with the Orwellian title “Death With Dignity Act,” I took action and testified at the council’s public hearing. I testified just two seats down from Brittany Maynard’s best friend, who was there to advocate for the bill.
I was the same age as Brittany Maynard when she took her life. As a young woman also enjoying the early years of my marriage, I was affected deeply by her story. Maynard, who made her final plea for legalized suicide on the cover of People magazine, reshaped the way Americans view the issue. Though her story was profoundly tragic, she gave the concept of doctor-prescribed suicide a glossier new image. What followed was a wave of bills to make it legal, including in Maynard’s home state of California, as well as Colorado, where I grew up, and now here in the District, where I have made my home.
What also followed, however, was a surge in suicide, outside of what is categorized as “doctor-prescribed.” The suicide rate is currently at a 30-year high. The rise in suicide has been especially pronounced among girls and women, in particular among girls ages 10-14. Suicide has gotten so out control in recent years that many social scientists now speak of “suicide contagion” or “suicide clusters,” and the issue prompted a lengthy cover story last fall from Hanna Rosin in The Atlantic.
The troubling spike in suicide tracks neatly with the advent of bills to legalize euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide; Oregon was the first state to legalize it in the mid-1990s. Last fall, a study published by the National Institutes of Health confirmed the obvious: Making suicide legal and more accessible, even if solely in cases of terminal illness, leads to an increase in total suicide rates.
I don’t want to raise my children in a city that gives legal sanction to the idea that it is merciful to end someone’s life.
What if my daughter gets sick when she is older? Will she too get a letter stating that her cancer drugs aren’t covered but her “death drugs” are, as happened in Oregon to Barbara Wagner?
What if my son finds himself feeling helpless and alone? Will he have grown up in a culture so steeped in suicide that he won’t hesitate to take his life? Will he get caught up in a “suicide wave” like the one that swept Fairfax County? Do we want the message to our young who are struggling to be that suicide is an encouraged option when you face adversity?
The law is a powerful teacher. I want the laws of my city to teach my children that the only just and merciful response to suffering is love and care, not death.
As the D.C. Council considers this issue, its members should firmly reject a bill that would give death the legal win.