Commuters heading into Cleveland on I-77 are seeing an exit sign this month that won’t take them downtown. A highway billboard from the Final Exit Network is promoting ‘death with dignity’ as part of a national campaign. Opponents say the billboard could lead Ohioans toward assisted suicide or worse.
Frank Kavanaugh is a member of the Final Exit Network, and the man behind the campaign and says it’s part of the group’s mission to spread the message that , “people who are suffering from an irreversible illness or unbearable pain have the right to end their life without restriction.”
Kavanaugh says the billboard is not an attempt to legalize assisted suicide, rather to, “promote a dialogue within the community.”
But Rita Marker of the Steubenville-based Patients’ Rights Council is not convinced. For decades, dating back to Jack Kevorkian, her group has challenged the ‘right to die’ movement. She views the Cleveland billboard as another salvo on that front. She calls assisted suicide by another name, “doctor proscribed death” and says the billboard is part of a grisly marketing ploy.
Marker says in Ohio the personal right to die is already adequately protected by the guarantees of a living will or do-not-resuscitate orders. She says groups like the Final Exit Network feed on people’s fear of unwanted medical intervention.
Although suicide is not a crime in Ohio, or any other state, Marker believes patients in pain or faced with a terminal illness should be provided further treatments, not death.
But Kavanaugh maintains that the Network’s purpose is to guide its members through what it calls “self-deliverance” and doesn’t encourage anyone to take their life, or “provide the means for them to do so.”
Final Exit Network provides information to members through ‘exit guides’ whose role varies from simply providing information, to in at least one case, something more. Four members of the Final Exit Network are on trial in Georgia for their involvement in the suicide of an elderly man diagnosed with terminal cancer. All four have pleaded not guilty. Assisted suicide is legal in Oregon, Washington and Montana, and Kavanagh says Vermont and Massachusetts are considering similar measures. He says there’s no question that someday, “we will all have the right to end our lives in certain circumstances.”
Opponent Rita Marker fears that making assisted suicide a legal medical procedure may ultimately empower insurance companies to choose the cheaper option for a terminal patient , rather than prescribe expensive treatments to lengthen life. It’s a scenario she says begins with a billboard because, “it makes it seem a little more acceptable.” Marker says the Final Exit campaign feeds the mentality “that there are people we’re going to discount and not provide the care they want and need and provide them a deadly overdose instead.”
Meanwhile Final Exit Network spokesman Kavanaugh acknowledges that mid-winter Cleveland can be a little dreary - it was not his intention to add to that depression with his billboard. He says the ‘die with dignity’ message will stay in Cleveland for a few more weeks before heading to highways in Boston and Chicago.