New York Times reporter Katie Hafner has her thesis, and she's sticking to it. "In Ill Doctor, a Surprise Reflection of Who Picks Assisted Suicide," the front page headline says. And what does Hafner find so surprising?
Washington followed Oregon in allowing terminally ill patients to get a prescription for drugs that will hasten death. Critics of such laws feared that poor people would be pressured to kill themselves because they or their families could not afford end-of-life care. But the demographics of patients who have gotten the prescriptions are surprisingly different than expected, according to data collected by Oregon and Washington through 2011.
Dr. Wesley is emblematic of those who have taken advantage of the law. They are overwhelmingly white, well educated and financially comfortable. And they are making the choice not because they are in pain but because they want to have the same control over their deaths that they have had over their lives.
Actually, there's nothing surprising about the data; this pattern had been established in Oregon long before Washington's 2008 "Death with Dignity" initiative hit the ballot. But that didn't stop initiative critics from spewing their ridiculous the-law-will-be-used-to-murder-poor-people-and-cripples bullshit throughout the campaign. Hafner not only accepts this critique as the starting point for labeling reality a "surprise," she also reinforces the critics' frame by using the term "assisted suicide" rather than "aid in dying" or "death with dignity," the less loaded terms preferred by proponents.
(Whether or not you consider a terminally ill patient hastening their own death to be a "suicide," under both Washington and Oregon law the lethal dose must be self-administered. The doctor who prescribes the medication and the pharmacist who fills it are no more assisting in a suicide then a clerk who sells you a bullet.)
I know it may seem picky of me to criticize a factually accurate article that largely refutes the baseless fear-mongering of aid in dying opponents. But by labeling the facts as "surprising" Hafner aids opponents in sowing doubt (surprising data is often presumed to be faulty data, after all). And by incorrectly branding the policy "assisted suicide" she reinforces a frame that has proven very effective in scaring voters and politicians away from a humane law that really only affirms and regulates what many doctors and families have been quietly doing for decades.