As assisted suicide continues to spread across the country, it becomes more important than ever to be aware of how easily it can be abused. The death of one Utah woman illustrates the problem with heartbreaking clarity.
55-year-old Karma Saltern was found dead on September 11, having killed herself. But it wasn’t a simple suicide case; another woman is alleged to have tried to help Saltern take her own life. 36-year-old Teresa Renae Clark is facing three counts of first-degree felony attempted aggravated murder, with authorities alleging that she tried to help Saltern kill herself multiple times throughout the year.
According to Logan Police Department Captain Tyson Budge, Clark wanted Saltern dead so that she could benefit financially. Clark had power of attorney over Saltern, and would have inherited all of her belongings. Clark had even suggested several different ways for Saltern to kill herself, none of which had been successful. Clark had attempted to buy a gun, and also suggested that she hold the knife to Saltern’s neck while Saltern slit her own throat.
Another attempt involved Saltern taking prescription drugs, which left her unconscious. Saltern survived, but Clark allegedly killed her dogs in the meantime, which Captain Budge said made Saltern angry when she woke up. (Clark has also been charged with two counts of class A misdemeanor cruelty to an animal in connection with the death of the dogs.) Not long after that failed suicide attempt, Saltern allegedly called Clark and apologized for not dying. She picked up some more pills from Clark and promised to try again. And eventually, Saltern was successful in killing herself.
Saltern didn’t die at the hands of a doctor; it isn’t specifically a case of physician assisted suicide. But what is the difference between a physician helping someone to kill themselves, and someone like Clark doing the job? As Washington, D.C.’s assisted suicide law shows, it’s a negligible difference: Clark is not a doctor — but she didn’t physically kill Saltern. Clark hoped to gain from Saltern’s death — but the D.C. assisted suicide law allows people who stand to financially gain from the person’s death to not only be present during the person’s request for assisted suicide, but also to pick up the drugs for the suicidal person. How is that any different from what Clark did?
Legalizing assisted suicide will not prevent these horrific crimes from taking place; it will encourage them. Instead of people like Clark being held accountable for pressuring people into killing themselves, they will be able to walk away free, and likely with a decent inheritance.
Currently, most people requesting assisted suicide don’t do so because they are scared of pain or of dying an “undignified” death. Studies have found that most of them feel hopeless, are fighting depression, and have a lack of family support. A new study, published in May in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that people requesting assisted suicide because they could not control their pain or diseases were rare; instead, they worried that they would be a burden on their loved ones or feared a loss of autonomy.
With assisted suicide being legal, vulnerable people won’t have safeguards against family members and friends preying on their fears and pressuring them to die. And there won’t be accountability for coercing someone into killing themselves. Is this really what we would call death with “dignity”?