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Exposing The Truth About Physician-Assisted Suicide

A bill entitled, End of Life Option Act, was introduced into the North Carolina General Assembly on April 11, 2017. The bill would make physician-assisted suicide legal in North Carolina. At this point, the bill has not been referred to committee. NC Family will keep an eye on this and let you know if lawmakers take any action on it. 

Suffering through a terminal illness, experiencing pain in advanced age, and dealing with mental illness are not hardships any of us would willingly choose for ourselves or for someone we love. The growing trend of physician-assisted suicide—a practice of prescribing a patient with deadly medication—may seem attractive to many well-meaning, compassionate individuals. As the one suffering, it could be tempting to give up, especially if those around us are encouraging us to consider physician-assisted suicide as an option. However, there are many grave implications of physician-assisted suicide that we should consider before going down the road of orchestrating when we or someone else dies.

The American Medical Association (AMA) has long stood in strong opposition to physician-assisted suicide, stating that the practice is “…fundamentally inconsistent with the physician’s professional role.” As Heritage Foundation scholar Ryan T. Anderson points out, physician-assisted suicide flies in the face of the Hippocratic Oath, which proclaims, “I will keep them from harm and injustice. I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.” However, in June 2016, the AMA passed a resolutioncalling for a study on the possibility of changing its position on physician-assisted suicide from opposed to neutral.  The AMA will review the findings during its annual meeting this coming June.

Those in favor of this horrific practice will often disguise it by labeling it “death with dignity” or “aid in dying,” as Charlotte Attorney Mary Summa writes in her article, “Physician-Assisted Suicide.” However, the harsh reality is that physician-assisted suicide severs the patient-doctor relationship, places patients at great risk, and devalues human life.

1. Physician-assisted suicide taints the patient-doctor relationship. The patient-doctor connection is rooted deeply in trust. Farr Curlin, M.D., a Duke physician who specializes in palliative care, is in the thick of the battle against physician-assisted suicide. Curlin arguesthat physician-assisted suicide “…directly contradicts physicians’ long-standing profession, which is to maintain solidarity with those who are sick and debilitated. [Physician-Assisted Suicide] is not just bad medicine; it’s the antithesis of medicine.” In an article they co-authored, Curlin and Tony Yang, Sc.D. reiterate this truth: “There can be no practice of medicine if patients do not trust physicians to care for them when they can¬not care for themselves.”

2. Physician-assisted suicide places patients at risk. Once patients no longer trust their physicians to “keep them from harm,” patients are left in a vulnerable position. Dr. J. Wesley Smith illustrates this through an example in California, where physician-assisted suicide is legal. Patients ordered to be in mental institutions by the State are allowed by law to take deadly drugs prescribed by doctors. Smith points out a grave irony: A patient who may be in a mental institution because of the threat of suicide can legally have access to physician-assisted suicide under California law.

In a radio interview with NC Family, Smith explains that the “premise” underlying physician-assisted suicide is “that killing is an acceptable answer to human suffering. Or, that eliminating the sufferer is a proper response to human suffering.” Once this precedent is widely accepted, the door is wide open for many horrific practices. For example, as Arina Grossu with Family Research Council explains, in Belgium even children under age 18 are now able to receive physician-assisted suicide.

Physician-assisted suicide opens the door wide for insurance companies to deny coverage of terminal illnesses instead of covering medications that could extend a patient’s life. Take Stephanie Packer’s case, for example. Packer is a mother of four in California who suffers from a terminal form of scleroderma. In a video released by The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network, Packer explains how her insurance company denied her coverage for a chemotherapy drug, but would cover medication that would end her life, which is legal under California’s End of Life Option Act. Encouraging patients to “kill themselves” by denying coverage for treatments sends a terrifying message that patients are not “worth it,” according to Packer.

3. Physician-assisted suicide devalues human life. In a radio interview with NC Family, Wesley Smith explains that physician-assisted suicide creates a “two-tiered system” in society where some lives are worth protecting, and others are not. According to the Oregon Death with Dignity Act: Data Summary (2015), nearly half of those who chose physician-assisted suicide did so because of the burden they felt their illness or condition placed on family members. Once physician-assisted suicide is on the table as an alternative to treatment, it is no wonder that those facing illness think of themselves as a burden. What is more, physician-assisted suicide can encourage younger generations to view the elderly and terminally ill as “lesser than” and not worth the cost and effort, which could even lead to elder abuse, as Margaret Dore points out in a piece against Vermont’s physician-assisted legislation.

With physician-assisted suicide now legal in six states and with the AMA’s potential shift in stance on the practice, we need to educate others that the right to life extends to all human life, including the unborn, the elderly, the mentally ill, and the terminally ill.

Take action: 

  • Call the AMA and urge them not to change their stance on physician-assisted suicide. Family Policy Alliance provides contact information and helpful talking points.
  • Attend a lecture and discussion of the two sides of the debate regarding “Physician-Aid in Dying” featuring Duke Physician Farr Curlin and three other doctors on Tuesday, April 25, 2017 at 5:45 p.m. at Duke University.

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