OAKLAND, Calif. — You can’t put a price on most things in life. But you can, apparently, put a price on death: $2,000.
That’s what Dr. Lonny Shavelson is charging patients at his brand-new physician-assisted suicide clinic in Berkeley, California.
Last month, California became the fifth and most populous state to adopt a law legalizing physician-assisted suicide. The state’s End of Life Option Act went into effect June 9.
Shavelson, who had retired from practicing medicine, was drawn back after Calif. Governor Jerry Brown signed the End of Life Option Act last year. Shavelson recently opened the state’s first End of Life Options clinic in the Bay Area, where he will consult with and provide lethal prescriptions for patients who request them — and who may not be given the prescription by other doctors who refuse to write such prescriptions.
Under the California law, two doctors must agree that a mentally competent patient has six months or fewer to live. The patient then agrees in writing to administer the lethal prescription themselves. Currently, the law does not mandate doctors to provide lethal prescriptions if they choose not to do so.
Shavelson’s sudden reappearance in medicine and his past advocacy for assisted suicide has left many critics skeptical of his motivations.
“I think that what we have said about assisted suicide is predictably happening, which is [that] some individuals in the healthcare industry will take advantage (of these laws) and see this as a business opportunity, and take advantage of people and families at their most vulnerable time,” Tim Rosales, political director for the Patients Rights Action Fund, told CNA.
One of Shavelson’s most vocal critics is Wesley Smith, a lawyer, author, and a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism.
In the ‘90s, Shavelson wrote a book called A Chosen Death, in which he chronicles the deaths of five people who had asked for assisted suicide. Shavelson was present for each person’s death.
In the book, Shavelson recounts how he watched the murder of a man who is suffocated to death, and how he did nothing to stop it. Smith takes Shavelson to task in his own book Forced Exit: Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide, and the New Duty to Die.
In it, Smith writes of Shavelson: “The right, proper, ethical, and humane thing for Shavelson to do as he watched Sarah asphyxiate Gene would have been to knock Sarah off the helpless man and then quickly dial 911 for an ambulance and the police. But Shavelson did not do anything…as he watched the Sarah-Gene tableau, just before the old man tried to rip the bag off his face.”
Critics of legalized assisted suicide argue that it overwhelmingly targets the poor, elderly and disabled, that it creates a slippery slope to doctor-enforced euthanasia, and that there can never be enough safeguards in place to prevent abuse.
Although the California law only applies to the mentally competent and terminally ill, a terminal diagnosis can be uncertain, with many people living well beyond their initial prognosis.
Countries such as the Netherlands, where assisted suicide and euthanasia have been legal since 2002, have recently witnessed the erosion of such safeguards as mental competence. Earlier this year, a young woman in her 20s was euthanized in the country because doctors had determined her mental health condition was “insufferable.”
Rosales said he hopes that states considering legalizing assisted suicide or euthanasia will find Shavelson’s practice troubling.
“It’s targeting folks and seeing this as something that is profitable or a business venture, and that certainly is troubling, and I think instructive for states that are considering similar laws.”