While in Boston this past weekend, I became aware of a ballot initiative that will be presented in November concerning bill H3884. This bill, known as the “Death With Dignity” bill, concerns the legalization of physician-prescribed suicide. The concept of physician-prescribed suicide differs greatly from assisted suicide and, frankly, scares the hell out of me. The idea of suicide as medical treatment goes beyond slippery slope; the hill is downright slushy. The current direction of health care in this country includes an alarming shift in the definition of health care itself evidenced by this concept of death by scrip pad.
Physician-prescribed suicide, as the Massachusetts bill outlines, will allow an adult resident deemed to have the capacity to make health-care decisions, and determined by two physicians to have a disease that will likely result in death within six months, to request and receive a prescription for a lethal drug that he or she may self-administer. In addition, two witnesses need to say that the patient is capable, acting voluntarily, and is not being coerced. The prescription must be dispensed to the person or his agent. The law states that the person must self-administer the drug but does not require a witness to the death. Sounds like heaps of compassion for the sick and dying, right? And maybe it is—that’s a debate that Jack Kevorkian argued for many years—but this is a far cry from what Dr. Kevorkian championed. This bill, and others like it all over the country, seeks to monumentally change the definition of health care in this country, and alter the credo that has guided physicians for millennia: cause no harm. The role of the physician has been to provide care appropriate for the patient, not to assist in the manner of their death. Feel the ground under your feet getting softer?
The involvement of a physician in assisted suicide is reason enough to oppose this type of legislation, but this bill will also further erode the value of human life and invite ever-growing intrusion by government. This bill does not take into account the person’s state of mental health, in that, they may be depressed. Who wouldn’t be if two doctors tell you you’ve got six months, right? But decisions made out of despair and depression are never a good solution in any circumstance. And let’s explore the whole six-month thing. The law states “will likely” result in death in six months. Likely isn’t good enough for me, and we all know someone who was given months to live and survived for years. The lethal poison is not tracked in any way. Once dispensed, it is assumed the patient will self-administer but what if they change their mind? Return the stuff? Flush it down the toilet? Slip it in hubby’s coffee? The two required witnesses need not be relatives and could, in fact, be total strangers. Witnesses could also be anyone standing to inherit from the patient’s estate.
As sinister as this may sound, is it so farfetched to predict that patients who have concerns about health-care costs or who suffer financial uncertainty might see this as an opportunity to alleviate burdensome financial obligations of loved ones? The ultimate sacrifice, so to speak? Or how about an unscrupulous family member, the one eye-balling the big inheritance, who convinces the patient that this is the best thing to do for “everyone concerned”? There is simply too much leeway for abuse. These are not reasons for suicide and to think that such scenarios could take place under the guise of “medical treatment” is abhorrent to me and apparently to the medical profession as well. The American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians and the Massachusetts Medical Society all oppose doctor-prescribed suicide.
Laws legalizing physician-prescribed suicide exist in the states of Oregon and Washington. They have been proposed with varying degrees of success in many other states, and there are active bills in Hawaii, Vermont. Check our Pennsylvania’s Senate Bill 431. Here’s the argument in a nutshell; these bills are not about death with dignity. They aren’t about giving anyone the right to death. They are about changing public policy so that doctors and others can directly and intentionally participate in ending another person’s life. Where I sit, they call that murder, even if it’s written on a prescription pad.