Conn. Lawmakers Consider Letting Doctors Assist With Suicide

Connecticut state senator Ed Meyer's bill to create "physician-assisted suicide" is not simply an attack on human life generally, but on elder or infirm adults and otherwise-disabled individuals especially. And it is certainly a step too far for Connecticut citizens who appreciate life.

Bearing the moniker "Proposed Bill No. 48," the measure would "permit a competent person who is suffering from a terminal illness to take his or her life through the self-administration of prescribed medication."

Defenders of the bill contend that because it applies only to "a competent person," its provisions will be difficult to abuse. However, in saying this, they miss the fact that the person killing himself or herself takes "prescribed medication," which necessitates the involvement of a second party – a doctor. That opens the door for people, particularly those who depend on others in some way and are most in need of care and protection, to be influenced toward death.

In fact, an article in the New York Times summarized that based on numerous studies of patients with severe, and in many cases, terminal illnesses, the reason for assisted suicide is rarely pain, or even fear of pain. Instead, patients have reported that their reason for killing themselves is "depression, hopelessness and fear of loss of autonomy and control. … In this light, physician-assisted suicide looks less like a good death in the face of unremitting pain and more like plain old suicide."

Moreover, for people who've made up their own minds about dying, this kind of legislation has proven to lead to "physician shopping" – where someone who wants to die goes from doctor to doctor until he or she finds a physician who will prescribe the lethal cocktail of meds.

And this kind of legislation also lends itself to sloppiness on the part of doctors – after all, a patient whom you help kill is not going to be around to complain about pain, abuse of informed consent, or any of the other steps you took – or didn't take – along the way.

These real-world problems are exacerbated by the fact that the supposedly lethal doses administered for suicide are not always sufficient for the task. This has been proven in countries like the Netherlands, where doctor-prescribed death has been allowable for some time.

The New York Times lists some of the ways an assisted suicide can "go wrong"

Patients…don't take enough pills. They wake up instead of dying. Patients in [a study from the Netherlands] vomited up their medications in 7 percent of cases; in 15 percent of cases, patients either did not die or took a very long time to die – hours, even days; in 18 percent, doctors had to intervene to administer a lethal medication themselves, converting a physician-assisted suicide into euthanasia.

As a column in the Hartford Courant recently asked, "To what fate are we subjecting the weakest of Connecticut citizens when well-intentioned advocates portray drugs as an easy street to ending difficulty and pain?"

Doctors are supposed to guard life. They are trained to be bulwarks against death, not charonic escorts toward it.

When we abandon these positions, and allow practicing doctors to also play the role of grim reaper, the weakest among us are sure to suffer. Suffering patients need understanding, counseling, and sound medical treatment, not encouragement to kill themselves and free up another hospital bed.

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