October 28, 2012. Today in the New York Times Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel (Rahm’s brother), a famous bioethicist, wrote a similar column called “Four Myths About Doctor-Assisted Suicide.” We thank him for his support and welcome him to this controversy.
10 Dangerous Myths About Legalizing Assisted Suicide
Jane St. Clair
(1st published 9-10-11)
1. Suicide is a medical procedure that needs to be supervised by a doctor.
Suicide is by definition something you do yourself. If you involve someone else, that person becomes an accessory to murder, even if that person is a doctor.
2. Terminally ill people suffer from excruciating pain, which is why they want to end their lives.
Pain relief for the terminally ill is better than ever. Nurses and doctors use a looser set of rules for morphine and other highly-controlled substances than they do for ordinary care, because terminally ill people do not live long enough to become drug addicts. It is possible to choose to be completely sedated and to shun all visitors while you are dying. Oncologist Dr. Desiree Pardi chose this way when she was dying.[i]
In one study of Oregon patients who wanted assisted suicide, no one wanted to have an assisted suicide because they were in immediate pain[ii]. Their main reasons were depression, becoming a burden, and not having family or friends to help them. The issue of isolation and despair is an issue of compassion that society needs to address. Encouraging people to commit suicide is not a compassionate answer.
3. Physician-assisted suicide is a legal “right”.
You don’t need a doctor to commit suicide, and in that way, it is nothing like abortion rights, gay rights, or civil rights. You already have the power to commit suicide. No one can stop you. No one is going to prosecute you if you succeed.
4. Physician-assisted suicide is a more dignified way of death than dying naturally.
This is a judgment and not a scientific fact.
Final Exit sells a suicide kit that looks like a plastic dry cleaning bag you put over your head.[iii]
How dignified is that?
5. Laws can be written in such a way that there will be no abuse of the elderly or handicapped.
Any lawyer can tell you that there is no way to write a law legalizing assisted suicide without opening the way to abuse, especially elder abuse. The proposed law in Massachusetts provides that two doctors sign off on each case of suicide. Hitler’s regime passed the same law. Doctors rubber-stamped every application, and the Nazis began their killing spree with the terminally ill, and moved on to the insane, the developmentally handicapped, the very elderly, gay people, etc. (F-4)
Today where assisted suicide is already legal, accurate records and follow up on abuses are simply not being done. In several cases where a depressed person should have been examined by a psychiatrist, the family just filled out the psychological test forms themselves.
6. Everyone who opposes assisted suicide does it based on religious beliefs.
We are a motley crew that cannot agree on anything, except that legalizing medical suicide is wrong. Though some of us are nuns and priests, some are doctors and nurses who hate the idea of executing our patients, some are lawyers specializing in elder abuse, some of us are activists in the disability rights movement, some of us are artists, some of us are scholars who oppose legalizing killing based on a study of history, some of us support Obamacare and some of us don’t. We are citizens of the USA, Britain, Belgium, France, Canada, Africa, and every country in the world.
Martin Sheen, who starred as a Democratic president on TV’s West Wing, did commercials for free against legalizing assisted suicide. How cool is it to have him playing with our team?
Compassion & Choices, the group promoting assisted suicide, has a $5 million annual budget. Their director is paid $147,000 a year. [iv]
We are unpaid volunteers.
7. If you are against legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide, it means that you want to force people to undergo medical care, even when it is expensive and will do them no good.
Many people are against legalizing assisted suicide, but for informed choices by terminally ill people.
While some people voluntarily decide to stop all aggressive treatments and opt only for pain relief and palliative end-of-life care, the majority of people want everything possible done. Whether society can afford all these treatments is a different question than whether society should encourage end-of-life suicides for cost-effectiveness.
8. Offering terminally-ill people suicide is an act of compassion.
Barbara Wagner and Randy Stroup didn’t think so. Both had cancer, and both got letters from the state of Oregon that said the state would not pay for their chemotherapy because they had such low odds of surviving. However, Oregon would pay for their suicide. Wagner and Stroup did not find these letters compassionate. They found these letters outrageous. Offering them suicide only increased their suffering.[v]
9. Assisted suicide will never become mandatory medical treatment.
10. If it does become mandatory treatment, it can’t happen to me.
Very dangerous! You go first!
[i] Hartocollis, Anemona. “Helping Patients Face Death, She Fought to Live,” The New York Times, April 3, 2010.
[ii] Ganzani, Linda, and Elizabeth R. Goy, and Steven K. Dobscha. “Oregonians’ Reasons for Requesting Physician Aid in Dying,” Archives of Internal Medicine, Mar. 9, 2009
[iii] Bjornstad, Randi. “Suicide kits sell death by mail,” The Register-Guard, Eugene, Oregon, May 11, 2011.
[iv] Mitscherlich, Alexander and Mielke, F. The Death Doctors. London: Elek, 1962.
[v] Springer, Dan. “Oregon Offers Terminal Patients Doctor-Assisted Suicide Instead of Medical Care,” July 28, 2008, see http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,392962,00.html#ixzz1Xa94lUeo
James, Susan. “Death Drugs Cause Uproar in Oregon,” ABC News, August 6, 2008, http://abcnews.go.com/Health/story?id=5517492&page=1