Strange Bedfellows: The Psychedelic Movement and Assisted Suicide

Kathryn Tucker is an influential lawyer and director of the pro-assisted suicide organization called the End of Life Liberty Project, described as “the leading advocacy organization using litigation as a tool to expand end-of-life liberty”. Back in January, 2017 I wrote about Ms. Tucker’s criticism of the so-called “safeguards” in assisted suicide laws as “burdens and restrictions”.

Now in a April 12, 2019 article for Chacruna Institute for Psychedelic Plant Medicines  titled “Can the Psychedelic Movement Learn from the Movement for End of Life Liberty?”, Ms. Tucker explains how the effort to legalize the psychedelic drug Psilocybin (better known as “magic mushrooms”) can learn from the techniques of the assisted suicide movement.

Currently, there is an effort in Oregon (the first state to legalize assisted suicide) for a “2020 ballot initiative to legalize psilocybin therapy and a Denver, Colorado (another assisted suicide state) initiative to decriminalize psilocybin use and possession by adults has just now narrowly passed.

WHAT IS PSILOCYBIN (“MAGIC MUSHROOMS”)?

According to the website drugs.com, so-called “magic mushrooms” contain chemical compounds obtained from certain types of dried or fresh mushrooms that are similar to LSD and “abused for their hallucinogenic and euphoric effects”.  Drugs.com also states that:

“The psychological reaction to psilocybin use include visual and auditory hallucinations and an inability to discern fantasy from reality. Panic reactions and psychosis also may occur, particularly if large doses of psilocybin are ingested.” (Emphasis added)

Because of special waivers from the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration), some small studies of cancer patients have shown benefits with small doses for anxiety and depression.

STRATEGIES

Ms. Tucker insists that the 1997 US Supreme Court case Vacco v Quill found a right  “of dying patients having access to as much pain medication as they need to get relief, even if it advances their time of death”.  (Emphasis added) However, Ms. Tucker neglects to mention that the Supreme Court ruled-unanimously-that there was no constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide.

She maintains that:

“Law and medicine already allow dying Oregonians access to controlled substances to eradicate consciousness (palliative sedation) and to advance the time of death (AID) (Aid in Dying, aka physician-assisted suicide). Surely law and medicine ought to allow access to controlled substances to alter and elevate consciousness.” (Emphasis added)

Tellingly Ms. Tucker writes about psychedelics:

“An authorization for medicinal use, allowing sick patients access to this medicine, appears the easiest first step in changing the law. Other medicinal uses are also compelling, including treatment of PTSD and depression. Focusing on medicinal use avoids attacks from those opposed to recreational or social drug use. It opens the door to societal familiarity with, and appreciation of, the benefits of psychedelics; this can lead to future expansion of access outside the medical realm.” (Emphasis added)

Because psychedelic drugs are not legal under current law and would need changes in the federal Controlled Substances Act, Ms. Tucker writes that various state efforts are instead emerging to change their state laws-just as Oregon did with assisted suicide after the 1997 Supreme Court case.

Ms. Tucker writes that one lesson the assisted suicide movement learned was that changing state laws can take multiple efforts. She writes that failed efforts to pass assisted suicide by ballot initiative in California and Washington state led to a tailoring of the text of such initiatives to get it passed by voters.

CHOOSE A STATE THAT ALREADY HAS PHYSICIAN-ASSISTED SUICIDE LAW

Ms Tucker says that using a state that already has an assisted suicide law would be strategic and would emphasize “the need to ensure that eligible patients would be provided with good palliative care to ensure that no patient would choose to precipitate death due to inadequate palliative care.” (Emphasis added)

She suggest that states like Hawaii might be the best test state because it has a unique provision to allow terminally ill patients to access undefined “remedial agents” as well as assisted suicide.

CONCLUSION

We often speak of the “slippery slope” of dangerous proposals that ultimately expand far beyond their initial enactment into law. We must recognize that this “slope” is planned and incremental, as Ms. Tucker makes clear.

With euthanasia, it started in 1938 with multiple failed legalization attempts by the Euthanasia Society of America. The concept finally gained traction after lawyer Luis Kutner’s 1969 law journal article “Due Process of Euthanasia: The Living Will, a Proposal”. After the well-publicized 1976 Karen Quinlan case, “living wills” and the “right to die” then were successfully sold to the public as the right of people to refuse extraordinary medical treatment when they are imminently dying or in a so-called “vegetative state”. Soon afterwards came the idea of legally removing feeding tubes from people who were also seriously brain-injured but not dying. This eventually led to several states legalizing physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill expected to die within 6 months.

Now we are seeing, as in a (thankfully failed) recent bill in New Mexico,  further attempts to change the definition of terminal illness to expected death in the “forseeable future”,  non-physicians able to prescribe assisted suicide, inclusion of people with mental health disorders, approval by “telemedicine” and no state residency requirement.

As Ms Tucker makes clear in this article, the most important lesson for legalization of any formerly outrageous concept is to never give up.

But never giving up is also a strategy that we in the pro-life movement have already learned.

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