Support for Physician-Assisted Suicide Requires a Blind Eye to Past, Present, and Future Abuses

I’ve known bioethicist Art Caplan for over 25 years. During that time span we have corresponded back and forth many, many times. He held positions that differ from National Right to Life’s from mildly different to radically, whole-heartedly different. Why do I mention this? For two reasons. Caplan is, as he is often described, the “go-to” bioethicist whenever the media is looking for an “objective” perspective on just about every imaginable issue that falls under the (self-appointed) purview of bioethicists. And second, because Caplan is seemingly omnipresent–on network and cable television, on op-ed pages, in news stories, and more specialized academic publications–his views carry weight. There was never any doubt that Caplan would eventually go public with what clearly (to anyone reading his comments) was his private opinion: that whatever reasons there were previously to oppose legalizing physician-assisted suicide, experience had taught us (or at least Caplan) that legalizing assisted suicide would not unleash an anti-life genii which would wreak widespread havoc. We’ve reposted elsewhere a terrific response from Nancy Valko which offers a fine-grained critique of the bottomless well of dubious assumptions Caplan relies on. She honed in on the very shaky unpinning of Caplan’s argument in “More States Approve Physician-Assisted Dying. Is This Risky?“: that there is no slippery slope. Or, to more accurate, there hasn’t been in the United States and won’t be in the future. No one, including Caplan, could miss that the euthanasia/assisted suicide train had long since left the only-when-the-patient-is-terminal-and-in-pain station. It is running wildly off track. So what is Caplan’s answer to his own recitation of the grim facts–people are not terminally...

Talking Points: Assisted Suicide & Euthanasia

In 2015, in Oregon, a bill has been introduced to expand the definition of ‘terminal disease’ in the state’s doctor-prescribed suicide law. Under the proposal, a patient who is predicted to die within one year — rather than the current six months prognosis — would be eligible to receive the lethal dose of drugs. However, there seems little reason for assisted-suicide advocates to expand that definition since, according to Oregon’s latest official report, some patients who died in 2014 under the state’s law had received the deadly overdose of drugs in one of the two previous years. As one doctor who prescribes assisted suicide admitted several years ago, there’s really no way of knowing whether a particular patient will die within six months or even a year. The life expectancy requirement in the bill was placed there just to assure its passage. Already, four of the doctor-prescribed suicide bills introduced this year have failed: CA, NY, New Mexico, & TN. In California on 27 July 2015, San Diego Superior Court Judge Pollack threw out a challenge to the state law banning assisted suicide. In his ruling, Pollack said that assisted suicide is quicker and less expensive than treatment and that there is a great potential for abuse. In addition, he said that doctor-prescribed suicide creates the possible scenario of someone taking his own life based upon an erroneous diagnosis of a terminal illness. “After all,” Pollack wrote, “doctors are not infallible.” These failures of doctor-prescribed suicide bills are due to greater awareness of how very dangerous doctor-prescribed suicide really is. Now is the time to help others know what...

Doctor-Prescribed Suicide is Never the Answer: Commentary

The disability community has been trying to have honest end-of-life conversations for years. After all, we’re the real experts on the front lines of the health care system that serves (and, sadly, often underserves) dying people. But for the most part, the megaphone has remained firmly within the grasp of the assisted suicide lobby and its well-intended supporters, many of whom haven’t been exposed to complete information about the construction, operation and consequence of such laws. Last week, California became the fourth state to legalize assisted suicide, providing the state’s imprimatur on the notion that some suicidal people warrant suicide prevention services and some warrant help getting the job done. Tragically, the only difference between those two groups is their health status or disability. Those already at increased vulnerability for depression and abuse because of their failing health are the ones who get state-sanctioned assistance with their suicidal ideations. Soon after Brittany Maynard became the long-awaited face of the right-to-die movement, the assisted suicide lobby (Compassion & Choices) enjoyed a fresh crop of proposed bills in sixteen states, with twelve defeats, California passing last week, and three others still pending. Although this whole ugly business seems far more palatable when such noble aims as pain mitigation are headlined, 17 years of available data do not bear out this claim. Oregon’s annual report data demonstrate that it’s social factors that propel assisted suicide requests. According to one study, “loss of autonomy” (92 percent), “less able to engage in activities” (89 percent), “loss of dignity” (80 percent), “loss of control of bodily functions” (50 percent), and “feelings of being a burden”...

Belgian Euthanasia & Assisted-Suicide Practices are Beyond Alarming (2015)

Even euthanasia supporters are calling developments in Belgium “worrisome” as a result of two, newly revealed cases that have been given formal approval for medically-induced death. Others see these cases as the tragic result of an ethical “slippery slope” that appears unstoppable in a country that has embraced euthanasia and assisted suicide as acceptable—even expected—ways to die. The Australian TV news show Dateline followed two Belgians who had been approved by doctors for euthanasia. Simona de Moor, an 85-year-old, physically healthy, mentally sharp woman, decided five minutes after her daughter unexpectedly died from a heart attack that she wanted to have her life ended by a doctor. “The moment they broke the news to me, five minutes later I knew,” de Moor told Dateline reporter Brett Mason. “And nobody in the world will take it away from me.” “It’s driving me mad,” she explained, “and I don’t want to go to a mad house, I want to die here [in my home].” De Moor and her 58-year-old daughter Vivienne had been very close after the death of de Moor’s husband several years ago. After Vivienne died, de Moor said, “I have no reason to live anymore, grief is unbearable pain.” According to Belgium’s euthanasia law, a person must be experiencing “unbearable” physical or mental suffering to qualify, but there is no consensus as to what constitutes “unbearable” suffering. Mason was allowed to film the final minutes of de Moor’s life. “Are you really ready?” asked Dr. Marc Van Hoey, who is a vocal euthanasia advocate. “Absolutely, 100 percent,” de Moor replied. He then handed her a lethal drug cocktail...

A Doctor-Assisted Disaster for Medicine

[Comment: The last time there was a good op-ed on assisted suicide, I was surprised to see that the subsequent letters to the editor were almost all from the pro-assisted suicide side. If you would like to write a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal, please send it to [email protected] or consider going to the article link to make a comment in the comments section of this article. N. Valko RN, 18 Aug 2015] As a physician in Oregon, I have seen the dire effect of assisted-suicide laws on patients and my profession Since the voters of Oregon narrowly legalized physician-assisted suicide 20 years ago, there has been a profound shift in attitude toward medical care—new fear and secrecy, and a fixation on death. Well over 850 people have taken their lives by ingesting massive overdoses of barbiturates prescribed under the law. Proponents claim the system is working well with no problems. This is not true. As a professor of family medicine at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, as well as a licensed physician for 35 years, I have seen firsthand how the law has changed the relationship between doctors and patients, some of whom now fear that they are being steered toward assisted suicide. In one case a patient with bladder cancer contacted me. She was concerned that an oncologist treating her might be one of the “death doctors,” and she questioned his motives. This was particularly worrying to her after she obtained a second opinion from another oncologist who was more positive about her prognosis and treatment options. Whichever of the consultants...