In principle, I support an individual’s moral right to choose whether to commit suicide for the purpose of alleviating profound suffering, as may be caused by a terminal illness.
I oppose Colorado’s end-of-life ballot measure, Proposition 106, primarily because it flagrantly violates people’s moral rights to freely associate, to dispose of their property as they see fit, and to operate their businesses as they see fit. Whatever one’s views about other aspects of the measure, it is clear that in the ways mentioned the measure violates rights and undermines liberty.
Proposition 106 seeks to add a new article to the Colorado Revised Statutes consisting of some eleven pages of text.
One of the sections (25-48-116) specifically dictates to private organizations what they may and may not do with respect to end-of-life practices. The section states that a “professional organization or association shall not subject an individual” to censure, discipline, suspension, loss of membership, etc., “for participating or refusing to participate in good-faith compliance under this article.”
This provision is an egregious violation of people’s rights to associate voluntarily. Consider a couple of illustrations.
Say a group formed called the “Catholic Doctors Association,” and this organization explicitly condemned the prescription of end-of-life drugs. Under the proposal, this organization could not revoke the membership of a member who actively practiced the prescription of end-of-life drugs.
Or say a group formed called “Doctors for End-of Life Options,” and it explicitly endorsed the prescription of end-of-life drugs in cases of consenting adults with terminal illness. Under the proposal, this organization could not revoke the membership of a member who refused to prescribe end-of-life drugs.
Generally, private organizations have a moral right and a First Amendment right to set its conditions for participation and membership.
Another section (25-48-118) says that a “health care facility may [in writing] prohibit a physician employed or under contract” from participating in the end-of-life procedures laid out. However, it also says that a health care facility or provider may take no action against a physician who prescribes end-of-life drugs or who fails to do so. That’s just ridiculous. A Catholic hospital has every moral right to refuse to participate in the measure’s end-of-life procedures and to fire or sanction any doctor who defies the hospital’s policy. And a secular hospital has every moral right to fire or sanction a doctor who refuses (say on religious grounds) to consider end-of-life drug prescriptions.
Yet another section (25-48-114) states that no contract, will, or “other agreement” may take into consideration a person’s request for end-of-life drugs. In other words, the measure would prohibit a Catholic man from writing into his will any condition that recipients of his estate not request end-of-life drugs. That’s just a flat-out violation of property rights. (Someone would be a jerk for writing something like that into a will, but it’s not government’s proper role to prevent people from being jerks insofar as they don’t violate others’ rights.)
Finally, section 25-48-115 states that insurance policies may not take into account requests for end-of-life medication. Now, as a practical matter, this probably wouldn’t make much difference. For example, a life insurance company is going to take into account the terminal illness in deciding whether to offer a policy, so the additional factor of a request for end-of-life drugs probably wouldn’t matter. (No insurer of right mind would offer a life insurance policy to someone with a terminal illness.) Still, the ballot measure improperly seeks to interfere in private contractual relationships.
To me, it doesn’t even matter what else the ballot measure says; the sections reviewed here should independently disqualify it. If the measure passes, I sincerely hope that the legislature eliminates the problems under review. If the measure fails, then in the future we can talk about whether and how to move forward with an improved end-of-life proposal.
See also “Why I’m Ambivalent about Right-to-Die Laws,” a detailed look at the laws in question.