Friday, October 5, 2012

Is death a "treatment"?

Superb essay on Massachusetts' proposed initiative permitting physician-assisted suicide.


... [T]he disability-rights group Second Thoughts submitted a challenge to contest a measure on the November ballot in Massachusetts, arguing that the initiative’s language for legalizing doctor-prescribed suicide is “clearly misleading.” Second Thoughts objects in particular to the use of the term “terminally ill.” According to director John Kelly, “People will be encouraged to assume that being ‘terminally ill’ is a biological fact, rather than a human guess.”
It has already been documented in Oregon, where doctor-prescribed suicide is legal, that the Oregon Health Plan has refused patients life-saving cancer treatments but offered “comfort care, including ‘physician aid in dying.’” Nor is the state making good on its purported goal of protecting patients from receiving lethal drugs when their decision is influenced by depression: Oregon’s latest annual report indicates that only one of the 71 persons who killed themselves with drugs in 2011 was referred for psychiatric evaluation, even though, according to a 2008 BMJ study, 25 percent of patients seeking doctor-prescribed suicide were depressed. Moreover, 9 of the 71 patients who killed themselves in 2011 received prescriptions for lethal drugs in “previous years,” making clear that the six-month-terminal-illness provision is a farce: “Death with dignity” laws are no more than efforts to elevate doctor-prescribed suicide to an accepted and inexpensive “treatment” under the pretense of compassion.

At first glance, legalization of doctor-prescribed suicide appeals to the libertarian in us all: If someone wants to end his life, who are we to stand in his way? But the members of Second Thoughts know what it is like for a medical professional to assume that their lives are not worth living, and they help us focus on the relevant question: What happens when death becomes a recognized and reimbursed medical treatment for “terminal” conditions? As a teenager, Norton was diagnosed with “terminal” Lou Gehrig’s Disease, but 50 years later he is alive and well.

What about the “terminal” mother who desperately wants to live but feels obligated to choose “death with dignity” so that her children can wrap up the division of her assets and property? What about the father who, on learning that advanced cancer threatens his life, loses for a time the will to live and is offered by his “compassionate” doctor a poisonous dose of barbiturates to end his life with? What about the patient who, in hope of a cure, is awaiting medical breakthroughs? Do these people deserve to be belittled with the offer of a fistful of lethal pills as a treatment option?

The prognosis is best when patients are free from pressure to accept the denial of medical care that they need and want. When care is rationed and the crime of assisting a suicide is redefined as medical treatment, the picture changes. Those who may see themselves as a burden on loved ones feel pressure to consider suicide a “treatment” option. How does that promote the public welfare?
"Physician-assisted suicide" is an oxymoron. People who help others kill themselves are, in that capacity, not acting as physicians. Killing is not medicine.

Legalization of "physician" assisted suicide is a clear and direct threat to people who are suffering, handicapped, or depressed. In an era of skyrocketing medical costs, the pressure on disabled and suffering people to choose death as a "treatment" will be enormous.

Genuine relief of suffering-- non-lethal relief-- is always available. Pain can always be controlled with proper medication, and anxiety and fear in people who are seriously ill are conditions readily treated. Killing is never the answer to human suffering.

Physician-assisted suicide is an explicit violation of the Hippocratic Oath. Killing innocents-- even at their request-- is grossly immoral, and should be anathema to physicians.

1 comment:

  1. I remember when doctors used to heal people. Sigh.