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However, even if this is accepted, the question confronting
society is not whether an individual is justified in wanting PAS. The broader
question is the impact the change in the law will have on society. If some cases warrant PAS, is it possible to
write legislation that will apply only to those individuals? Or will
legislation passed out of compassion sweep up some who are not tired of life,
but think others are tired of them? Kamisar writes: “In a society which
recognizes by specific legislation that assisted suicide (and hence suicide as
well) is a rational and reasonable course of action in certain circumstances,
and a society in which assisted suicide will not only be thinkable but
speakable, will it be or become the “right” thing to do under certain
circumstances? The courageous thing? The disappointing or selfish or cowardly
thing not to
do?” (In case anyone thinks Kamisar’s worries are unrealistic, I should point
out that at least one writer has advocated a “duty to die” to avoid imposing
serious financial, physical, or emotional burdens on family members.)

In
addition to the risk that some individuals may feel pressured into choosing
death, there are groups of patients who may be especially vulnerable: the
disabled, those with mental illness, poor people, and minority group members.
The risk that death may be too easily seen as a solution to terminal illness
for members of these groups is intensified by economic pressures, when
healthcare budgets are being cut. As one commentator put it: “Even if the right
to assisted suicide were restricted to terminally ill people, it seems likely
that some—the poor, elderly, unassertive, clinically depressed, members of disfavoured
minorities, or some combination of all these—would be especially vulnerable to
subtle or not-so-subtle promptings to choose a quick, easy (and inexpensive)
exit.

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Women
might also be a vulnerable group, partly because of sexism which both devalues
women and idealises women as self-sacrificing, and partly because studies have
shown women to be at greater risk for inadequate pain relief and for depression.

Until
very recently, no one could do more than speculate the risks. Now, however, we
have Oregon’s experience as objective evidence. Have the fears of the anti-PAS
crowd materialised?

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