Matt Witt is a writer and photographer who lives in rural Oregon.
My problem with the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court is not political. It’s personal. It’s about my father and mother. And it’s about one of our most sacred rights as human beings.
As The Post recently reported, Gorsuch wrote a book in 2006 opposing state laws that allow people with terminal illnesses to decide the timing and terms of their final days.
In the book, he laid out why he believes judges should be able to prevent families such as mine from making our own choices, arguing that “all human beings are intrinsically valuable” and that legal recognition of a dying person’s right to make end-of-life decisions could create a slippery slope to legalization of “sadomasochist killings,” “mass suicide pacts” or even the “sale of one’s own life.”
Gorsuch certainly is entitled to apply that view to his own life, but given the experience of families such as mine, he should not be elevated to the Supreme Court, where he could impose his personal beliefs on those who do not share them.
My father was in his 90s when he was diagnosed with a fatal disease that would make him progressively less able to function. The news made him fearful — not so much of death, but of spending an extended time confined to a chair or bed, enduring increasing pain and being unable to do the things that, to him, made life worth living.
He decided to move in with my wife and me in rural Oregon, a state that for 20 years has recognized that end-of-life choices should be made by the individual, not the government. Under Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act , when my father had less than six months to live he had the right to ask his doctors to prescribe medication that would end his life at his discretion. He knew his doctors would respect his wishes (although under the law they had the right to refer him to other doctors if writing that prescription would violate their own beliefs).
My father died before he needed to use his Death with Dignity rights. But knowing he had access to such medication gave him great peace of mind and allowed him to focus on enjoying his final days instead of worrying about what was to come.
His experience is typical of many others in our state. While an average of only 59 people per year in Oregon have ended their life under the Death with Dignity law, countless others find comfort in knowing they are in control, even if they never have to take that step.
Gorsuch writes in his book that while he would not allow people such as my father the right to take end-of-life medication, he would graciously permit patients to refuse food or medicine that would prolong their life. My family, unfortunately, has experience with that too.
When my mother was in her late 80s, she was hospitalized after a risky surgery. When it became clear that she was not going to recover, she told her doctor and family that she wanted to spend her remaining time at home.
By law at that time in California, where she was living, she could ask her doctor for painkillers — but not medication to end her life. Instead of leaving that decision to her, the state dictated that she had to continue to live, regardless of the pain she would suffer.
Deprived of that choice, my mother took the only path she saw open. She refused to eat and spent her final days enduring the devastating effects of starvation.
If Gorsuch chooses not to go that route when it is his time, that should be up to him. But he should not be in a position to dictate what such people as my mother can and cannot do as they are dying.
As I enter old age, I don’t know what terminal condition I will someday face, but I too take comfort knowing that I live in a state where I can have some say over the terms and timing of my final days. Unless, of course, Gorsuch and a new Supreme Court majority take my rights away. Or unless death-with-dignity opponents in Congress such as Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) figure out a way to override the end-of-life rights that an increasing number of states protect.
For decades, we have heard conservative public figures rail against what they say is too much government interference with individual liberty. But it it turns out they only want to protect individual liberties that are consistent with their own religious beliefs. The arrogance of Gorsuch’s position on this issue alone ought to disqualify him from serving on our nation’s highest court, which has the sacred duty to ensure liberty and justice for all.
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