Assisted Suicide: Coming to a State Near You

I hope to have more to say on the issue of euthanasia and assisted suicide in the near future. In the meantime, I highly recommend this article by Herbert Hendin, M.D. Dr. Hendin’s book, Seduced by Death: Doctors, Patients, and Assisted Suicide, is an excellent resource on the topic, the result of extensive research and multiple interviews taken while studying euthanasia practices in the Netherlands. This article provides a nice summary of his research and experience, which builds a solid case against euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.

Washington has recently become the second state to pass an assisted suicide initiative, and, legislating from the bench, a Montana judge has ruled that man has right to assisted suicide.

This movement is on a roll, and you will want to be informed about why this is such a ghastly public policy trend.

A few highlights from the article:

Concern over charges of abuse led the Dutch government to undertake studies of the practice in 1990, 1995 and in 2001 in which physicians’ anonymity was protected and they were given immunity for anything they revealed. Violations of the guidelines then became evident. Half of Dutch doctors feel free to suggest euthanasia to their patients, which compromises the voluntariness of the process. Fifty percent of cases were not reported, which made regulation impossible. The most alarming concern has been the documentation of several thousand cases a year in which patients who have not given their consent have their lives ended by physicians. A quarter of physicians stated that they “terminated the lives of patients without an explicit request” from the patient. Another third of the physicians could conceive of doing so.

An illustration of a case presented to me as requiring euthanasia without consent involved a Dutch nun who was dying painfully of cancer. Her physician felt her religion prevented her from agreeing to euthanasia so he felt both justified and compassionate in ending her life without telling her he was doing so. Practicing assisted suicide and euthanasia appears to encourage physicians to think they know best who should live and who should die, an attitude that leads them to make such decisions without consulting patients–a practice that has no legal sanction in the Netherlands or anywhere else.

Assisted-suicide laws are always framed as being “compassionate” — appealing to the universal fear of dying a prolonged and painful death. Yet the unintended consequences of giving physicians the unrestricted power of life and death are often anything but:

Compassion is not always involved. In one documented case, a patient with disseminated breast cancer who had rejected the possibility of euthanasia had her life ended because, in the physician’s words: “It could have taken another week before she died. I just needed this bed.”

He also extensively studied Oregon’s experience with assisted suicide — the legislation which served as the model for Washington’s law — and found plenty of problems here as well:

Oregon physicians have been given authority without being in a position to exercise it responsibly. They are expected to inform patients that alternatives are possible without being required to be knowledgeable enough to present those alternatives in a meaningful way, or to consult with someone who is. They are expected to evaluate patient decision-making capacity and judgment without a requirement for psychiatric expertise or consultation. They are expected to make decisions about voluntariness without having to see those close to the patient who may be exerting a variety of pressures, from subtle to coercive. They are expected to do all of this without necessarily knowing the patient for longer than 15 days. Since physicians cannot be held responsible for wrongful deaths if they have acted in good faith, substandard medical practice is encouraged, physicians are protected from the con-sequences, and patients are left unprotected while believing they have acquired a new right.

The idea of assisted suicide has enormous allure in a culture of self-gratification and increasingly-shallow moral and ethical principles. Don’t be surprised when it comes your way — be prepared.

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12 thoughts on “Assisted Suicide: Coming to a State Near You

  1. I take it you are are against assisted-suicide?

    Let me ask you this – how can we say we live in a free nation if we cannot do what we wish to our own bodies, as long as we do not impact the life, liberty and safety of others?

    I have mixed feelings on the subject, but I really have a hard time with others telling me what to do with my body.


  2. Yes, very much against it.

    You are, of course, perfectly free to end your own life, with or without such legislation. A handgun and a single bullet will do the job very nicely — along with a hundred other ways.

    The problem with this public policy is that you are asking your physician to kill you — and therefore it is no longer just about “what you do with your body”, but very much involves other people — the doctor, the families, and society as a whole.

    The problem with this sort of “it’s my body” radical self-autonomy is that it focuses solely on the self, while conveniently ignoring the enormous consequences of such legalization on others and society as a whole.

  3. How a physician can assist in suicide and reconcile that with “…do no harm…” is beyond my little brain’s abiltiy to assimilate.

    Your answer to Van is right on.

    Selfishness is the essence of what brings one to suicide (excepting clinical depression, of course).

  4. “It could have taken another week before she died. I just needed this bed.”

    This statement on its own should be enough to stop the passing of an assisted-suicide law. It won’t be of course, but it should be.

  5. An illustration of a case presented to me as requiring euthanasia without consent involved a Dutch nun who was dying painfully of cancer. Her physician felt her religion prevented her from agreeing to euthanasia so he felt both justified and compassionate in ending her life without telling her he was doing so.

    Where I come from that is murder.

    Just wait until the government is paying for your health care. Assisted Suicide will be mandatory.

  6. Hi Bob,

    So your key issue is the doctor assisting in the suicide, thereby involving others?

    Let’s say you have a 90 year old individual with no family, suffering from cancer, who has no meaningful impact on others… If they take their own life, you are OK with it?

    Just trying to understand where you are coming from.


    PS- the “notify me of follow-up comments” option wasn’t working. Just thought you should know.

  7. Hi Van,

    Been a bit crazy here so it may take a day or so to answer you. Thanks for the heads up on subscribe — may need to update the WP plugin.

  8. Where do we stop if we allow assisted suicide of patients that are suffering? What’s next, the assisted suicide of unproductive citzens that are costing the states money when they go to the doctor for any of a number of things? Have we become that heartless of a society to help end a life under the guise of compassion?

    And, if anyone is wondering, yes I’m against it.


  9. Good discussion.

    I would like to join, but first need to determine if this is a discussion of legality or morality.

    Abortion discussions, for example, typically fail to clarify what is legal and what is moral. Those of us who are pro-choice are frequently tagged “baby killers” because we do not advocate criminalizing abortion. I regard abortion as morally reprehensible but consider my mission as a Christian to lead others to that understanding.

    I can say the same about suicide (or capital punishment, gambling, substance abuse, prostitution, infidelity and a host of other sins) but I also know that legal remedies have limitations.

    Morality, freely exercised, is often indistinguishable from compelled behavior but compelled behavior cripples the moral compass.

    Legalizing medical assistance in no way mitigates the moral depravity of suicide for either the subject or the “assistant” but I don’t see that criminalizing that assistance addresses an important core issue.

    (If, on the other hand, there is no distinction between legality and morality, then this comment will be my last in this thread.)

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