Arguing Against Physician-Assisted Suicide

Author: CSRTL

An article from: Colorado Springs Right to Life, Inc. _Lifeline_ Newsletter 421 North Tejon St. P.O. Box 9836 Colorado Springs, CO 80932

March, 1995


If we're going to protect depressed, disabled, and dying people from the lethal pressures of the newly-introduced physician- assisted suicide bill (HB 1308), then we have to start educating ourselves, our families and friends, and our elected officials.

For this reason, we're devoting the rest of this newsletter to some pertinent (and, we think, persuasive) information.

Polls show that it is the young and healthy...not the old and sick...who clamor for the right to die. (LIFE AT RISK, 4/94)

Researchers say the Hemlock Society's suicide options "are mostly used, not by the terminally ill, but by the treatably depressed," including teens and seniors. (LIFE AT RISK 4/94)

Psychiatrists report: 75% of suicidal people are very ambivalent; attempts are not an effort to end it all, but a cry for help, a wish to be rescued; motives include the desire to accomplish something, to establish communication, to test another's love and concern. ("Suicide and Mental Illness," NRLC, 5/94)

Experts in suicide discount the idea of `rational suicide,' insisting the terminally ill, like others, commit suicide only when suffering from clinical depression. Furthermore, depression is as treatable for the terminal as for anyone else. (LIFE AT RISK, 4/94)

Research shows the suicide rate in terminal patients is 2-4%. Competent counseling, together with appropriate medical care, is the correct response. (AMA News, 9/7/92)

Although most major urban medical centers have not developed special palliative-care units, "I can state without equivocation that the physical sources of suffering associated with dying all can be controlled." (Dr. Ira Byock, hospice physician, FAMILY VOICE, 1994)

Even cancer patients with intractable pain can be kept pain- free. Furthermore, dosages which would be addictive to us...which would put us to sleep, slow our breathing, eventually kill not have the same affect on patients in pain. (Dr. Matthew Connoly, well-known expert on pain management, THE RIGHT TO KILL)

Only 31 percent of dying patients even need a painkiller the day before they die. Nearly 100% of cancer pain is controllable. (US News & World Report, 4/25/94)

The New York State Task Force on Life and the Law found the medical community is not doing a very good job of caring for chronically-suffering and severely-ill people. (Up to 60% of cancer patients do not have adequate pain control; terminal patients who become clinically depressed and suicidal often do not receive adequate mental-health intervention or anti- depressants.) If doctors do such a poor job of relieving pain and depression now, what kind of job will they do if killing is endorsed as a "treatment option."? (NATIONAL REVIEW, 10/10/95)

Only one-third of patients who visit a primary-care physician with symptoms of depressive disorders are appropriately diagnosed and treated. Ten to 15% of cancer patients meet the diagnostic criteria for clinical depression, but few are treated with anti-depressants. Depression in Alzheimer's patients if often mistaken for dementia. (New York Times, 4/21/93 and 11/15/90)

Uninformed medical personnel, using outdated or inadequate methods, often fail to bring patients relief, despite the fact that adequate interventions exist to COMPLETELY control pain in 90-99% of cases. ("Pain Control," NRLC, 5/94)

Only 13 of the 126 medical schools require either a course or a clinical rotation in geriatrics. Although most schools offer elective courses in geriatrics, only 3.5% of the students take them. (Gazette Telegraph, 7/16/91)

Only 28% of doctors in a survey reported in HIPPOCRATES would obey an assisted-suicide request, even from a terminal patient.

The 1994 AMA Code of Ethics says, "Physician assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician's role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks."

The American Bar Association, citing the abuses in Holland, rejected a 1991 resolution for assisted suicide, observing "what may be voluntary in Beverly Hills is not likely to be voluntary in Watts." ("Physician-Assisted Suicide" paper by Mary Senander.)

The New York State Task Force on Life and the Law (composed of both pro-life and pro-euthanasia members) concluded its extensive investigation by UNANIMOUSLY opposing assisted-suicide laws, saying they would be profoundly dangerous for many patients who are ill and vulnerable. (Issues in Law and Medicine, Winter, 1994)

"My own experience has led me to believe that no human being, no matter how educated or wise, can accurately assess the potential of another to rise above the bleakest of circumstances." (Chicago Tribute, 4/16/93. Author has polio, attempted suicide as a teen.)

"My rights are threatened by the legalization of assisted suicide far more than the pro-euthanasia person's rights are by the illegalization of it. She already is free to kill herself; her friends, family, and doctors are free to help her. She doesn't want to accept the consequences of such a choice. I, on the other hand, am put in the position of defending my choice to live. I, more than she, must fear my final days at everyone else's mercy." (Detroit Free Press, 3/25/94, Author has multiple sclerosis.)

Ninety-six percent of middle-aged and elderly patients who'd undergone intensive care would want it again...and 74% would want it, even if it gave them one more month of life. (JAMA, 1988)

"Individuals cling to life, fighting to the last breath. A desire for death...may be a momentary part of living, but suicide is virtually invariably the result of deep, often sudden, depression. When a doctor assists suicide, he encourages and validates the mental illness of his patient." (JAMA, 1991)

"Lots of my dying patients say they grow in bounds and leaps, and finish all the unfinished business. But assisting suicide is cheating them of these lessons, like taking a student out of school before final exams. That's not love; it's projecting your own unfinished business." (Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, internationally-recognized expert on death and dying, USA Today, 11/30/92)

"The transition from life can be every bit as profound, intimate, and precious as the miracle of birth. The surprising fact is that in the midst of their dying, many people are able to experience, not merely comfort, but an increased sense of well-being, which often includes a deep connectedness to others and to the world." (Dr. Ira Byock, practicing hospice physician, FAMILY VOICE, 1994.)

Before Oregon's assisted-suicide law passed, at least some pharmacologists pointed out that drug overdoses are ineffective at ending lives, often just causing vomiting and sleep, or worse, putting the patient into a `persistent vegetative state.' Cheryl Smith (an attorney who helped draft the Oregon measure), Derek Humphry (the co-founder of Hemlock) and Dr. Peter Admiraal (the `father' of the Dutch euthanasia movement) all agree that 20-25% of deaths from overdose will be long and drawn out rather than spontaneous.

"Families will have to be educated about this. Otherwise, they'll have some emotional trauma watching loved ones take two, three, or four days to die," says Smith. Humphry says the Oregon law "will only work if, in every instance, a doctor is standing by to administer the coup de grace, if necessary." (AMA News, 1/23-30/95)

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