The nation's largest faith-based organization of physicians warned Wednesday of the potential for pro-suicide ideology to seep into law and government policy.
More specifically, the Christian Medical Association (CMA) pointed to the pro-suicide influence in a controversial Veterans Administration (VA) manual and a section of the main House healthcare overhaul bill.
"As physicians, we recognize the value of advance planning and counseling and appointing a personal healthcare proxy," commented Dr. Gene Rudd, senior vice president of the 16,000-member CMA. "The VA manual goes a step further, however, subtly raising with vulnerable patients the possibility that physical impairments might make their lives, in the words of the manual, 'not worth living.'
The 52-page manual, entitled, "Your Life, Your Choices: Planning for Future Medical Decisions," lists scenarios such as being in a wheelchair, needing kidney dialysis, or requiring a feeding tube and then asks the patient to consider whether those situations might make his or her life "not worth living."
It also includes guilt-inducing scenarios such as "I can no longer contribute to my family's well being," "I am a severe financial burden on my family" and that a veteran's situation "causes severe emotional burden for my family."
"When the government can steer vulnerable individuals to conclude for themselves that life is not worth living, who needs a death panel?" posed Jim Towey, president of Saint Vincent College and founder of the nonprofit Aging with Dignity, in a recent opinion piece featured in the Wall Street Journal
"One can only imagine a soldier surviving the war in Iraq and returning without all of his limbs only to encounter a veteran's health-care system that seems intent on his surrender," added the former director of the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.
The manual's primary author, Dr. Robert Pearlman, had advocated for physician-assisted suicide before the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark 1997 Vacco v. Quill case, which established in the end that, as a matter of law, there was no constitutional guarantee of a "right to die."
Pearlman is currently chief of ethics evaluation for the VA's National Center for Ethics in Health Care.
In addition to the VA manual, the CMA noted that the pro-assisted suicide group Compassion & Choices claims to have worked with Congressional leaders to secure the end-of-life section of the healthcare overhaul bill, HR 3200.
Section 1233 of that bill, according to Rudd, calls for government funds to pay healthcare professionals to give patients "an explanation of orders regarding life sustaining treatment or similar orders, which shall include – the reasons why the development of such an order is beneficial to the individual and the individual's family..."
"Imagine that you're depressed. You found out last week you have cancer. You were told that with treatment you have a 50/50 chance of beating it. No one knows how sad you are; no one has asked. But now the end-of-life counselor suggests you should consider this: Your disease and treatment may be a burden on your family. The cost of treatment will be significant. You may accept treatment, or decline treatment and opt for comfort care. Imagine the impact of those suggestions on a vulnerable patient," posed Rudd.
"Such counseling may serve the government's purposes in a bill explicitly designed to 'reduce the growth in health care spending.' But it does not serve the patient's best interest," the Christian leader added.
In his comments Wednesday, Rudd emphasized the need for a physician to remain an impartial advocate for the patient – not for the government.
"Paying physicians and others to counsel patients regarding the end of life when the government will be paying for that patient's end of life care creates a conflict of interest. Patients need to know they can trust us to give independent counsel – not government propaganda," he concluded.