Opinion: Physician assisted suicide — patients mistakenly lose years or life

Several bills have been proposed to legalize physician assisted suicide in Connecticut.  The Connecticut Right to Life Corporation has some serious concerns regarding the care and safety of patients who would be vulnerable – the chronically ill, disabled, and elderly.  Reputable state medical societies, cancer centers such as Sloan Kettering, the AMA, the American College of Physicians, the nation’s largest medical specialty society share the same concerns and strongly oppose physician assisted suicide.

In a “Position Statement”  the Assocations  of Northern California Oncologists, Medical Oncology of Southern California, California Medical , AMA, Am College of Physicians, doctors say eligibility is based on a six-month life expectancy. But, these doctors point out that, “Physicians are wrong about a patient’s prognosis “more often” than they are right. As oncologists, every week in our practices we see patients surviving months or years longer than estimated because of variability in disease or benefits from treatments, and we rejoice in these ‘errors.’…PAS will lead people to give up on treatment and lose good years of their lives.”

The Death of Socrates

The Death of Socrates

In addition, doctors share that, though promoters of these bills say there is a need to assist patients in severe pain at the end of life, pain is not an issue. They say that “Few patients requested suicide because of inadequate pain control or concern about it….Loss of autonomy and decreased ability to engage in pleasurable activities were cited in excess of 78% of cases.” which can be verified by the statistics in the Oregon Department of Health Annual Reports.

These doctors are concerned about the high percentage of patients who died from assisted suicide that they say, “Might have been helped by aggressive psychiatric intervention or spiritual counseling”.

Dr. Gomez, AMA, who headed a national AMA program to educate 20,000 or more doctors on patient pain management and care, says, “We now have lots of documented evidence that an aggressive drug regimen can effectively protect end of life patients from pain

The AMA states that “There is, in short, compelling evidence of the need to ensure that all patients have access to quality palliative care, but not of any need for physician-assisted suicide.”

The AMA says that “Instead of participating in assisted suicide…..patients should not be abandoned once it is determined that a cure is impossible. Multidisciplinary interventions should be sought including specialty consultation, hospice care, pastoral support, family counseling, and other modalities.  Patients near the end of life must continue to receive emotional support, comfort care, adequate pain control, respect for patient autonomy, and good communication.”

These top medical organizations and the AMA share concerns that physician assisted suicide distracts from applying integrative disciplines, such as psychological and hospice care, that give patients quality of life care at any stage — as opposed to presenting a suicide option.

A hearing is planned for sometime in February in Hartford.  To help, please contact your local legislators and ask them to reject these bills.

Eileen Bianchini is chairperson for the Connecticut Right to Life Corporation. You can contact her at EBianchiniGOLS@gmail.com


4 Responses to “Opinion: Physician assisted suicide — patients mistakenly lose years or life”

  1. Rev. Douglas Peary

    This person is correct on most of their ideas but they are wrong about people who are actually dying in intense pain who choose not to live in oblivion, a vegative from pain drugs or dementia. They should be allowed to die as they choose themselves. No one is asking anyone to die before it is their time to die. Everyone now has the right to die only at the end of their natural life. It is only the ones who don’t want to be drugged to oblivion against pain or by dementiawho have no rights. You should be ashamed for denying them their their rights. Rev. Peary

  2. L. A. Honkanen, M.D.

    It is never acceptable to end the suffering by ending the sufferer. The root of “compassion” is to “suffer with” – to walk the journey with him who suffers. It is the ultimate abandonment to assist in causing the death of another even if guided by a false sense of altruism.

    Experience shows that patients do not request physician assisted suicide (PAS) when physical pain and mental suffering are adequately treated. These are legitimate areas of a physician’s healing duty, but causing or assisting in death is not. However, when PAS is a legal option, these issues are much less well addressed, because there is a simpler, but far less humane and compassionate option – intended death. PAS violates the physician’s traditional oath to “first do no harm.” Additionally, legalizing PAS allows many abuses, indeed many “safeguards” are abandoned, e.g. in 2010 and 2011, less than 2% of patients requesting PAS in Oregon had a mental health evaluation. Medicine has come a long way in managing pain and mental suffering with medications, devices, procedures and technology that can bring great comfort and relief to patients with symptoms that in the past would have been unmanageable.

    It is incorrect to say that patients without the ability to express their desires “have no rights” just because PAS is not a legal option. The Declaration of Independence tells us that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, including the right to Life. There is an expectation of death, but not a right to choose to kill oneself. One might be frustrated and downtrodden by debility, but it is our human responsibility to comfort and care for that person, not eliminate a perceived burden by assisting in killing him. Does that not convey the sentiment “you’re better off dead to me?”

    Furthermore, we cannot agree that suicide is a tragedy, but also say that if it is assisted by a physician it will be tolerated. We cannot agree that some lives are not worth living until their natural end, and then be surprised when suicide rates in general increase (as seen in Oregon), or there becomes a strong sense of a societal duty to die despite opposite core beliefs.

    In the end, PAS is just another step along the slippery slope of a culture of death – legitimizing that which we know in our hearts is wrong. As a physician, I am deeply saddened that the healing art of medicine is being distorted by the rhetoric of misguided compassion. I commend Ms. Bianchini for defending patients’ rights, and I beg Rev. Peary (comments) to rethink his position. I hope the CT legislature will use the experience of Oregon, Washington, and the Netherlands to see the direct and unintended consequences of PAS do not advance our humanity, but rather diminish our capacity to love and care for each other.

  3. enness

    The Supreme Court affirmed the right to refuse unwanted treatment over 20 years ago. There will always be tradeoffs to make with or without PAS, and I think the harm of it far outweighs the benefit.

    In 2008, the president of Compassion & Choices wrote an editorial criticizing Oregon resident Barbara Wagner and her doctor for their choice for treatment and life – so whose choice is it supposed to be, really? I was also just reading about a New Jersey hospital that decided unilaterally that it was time to withdraw a man’s dialysis, against the unanimous wishes of his family and legal guardian, despite his being incapacitated, having no advance directive, and not having expressed a desire to die, and the fact that doctors couldn’t agree on how long he would live or if he was in any pain. Come on, who are we kidding? Legalizing PAS will empower all sorts of people besides the patient. You know that the bill that was shot down in MA wouldn’t have prevented an heir from being a witness? And Compassion & Choices is hoping for FEWER restrictions here!

    Especially curious why dementia is brought up, when this is supposedly for mentally competent individuals only. If you can’t remember people’s names how are you supposed to remember that you asked for a suicide prescription? Or is the end game really straight-up euthanasia?

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