Shifting Gears on Physician-Assisted Suicide?

August 31, 2015 • Posted in Atlas

D. Joy Riley, M.D., M.A.

How “neutral” can one be regarding assisted suicide? How about a medical organization? This past week, The Tennessee Center for Bioethics & Culture sent a letter of concern to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization:

Date: Wed, 26 Aug 2015 12:52:22 -0500

Subject: Physician-assisted suicide

Dear Board Members and Staff of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization:

It has come to my attention that you, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO), are now considering changing your position statement from “opposing” physician-assisted suicide (P-AS) to taking a “neutral” stance. I hope you will re-consider such a course of action. Your position statement serves at least two purposes: it sets a boundary, and it is a tutor to those looking to you for advice.

If the boundary of the good for the life of the patient is moved to include the patient’s death, then why would we as a culture desire to place more resources in providing palliative care or hospice comfort? It is well known that life-ending drugs are cheaper solutions, at least for the bottom line. Such measures as P-AS cheapen life as well as the economic picture, though. Patients, particularly those elderly and infirm, may acquiesce to P-AS to save their families from further suffering or hardship. Others may be coerced into cutting short their lives. Even if none of that happened, the bond between physician and patient would be horribly weakened, and that is, frankly, reason enough to stay your hands.

Secondly, your position statement is a tutor to younger physicians and others involved in medical care, as well as to patients. “What is right to do? Well, if the NHPCO says this is okay, then surely, it must be,” will be a common theme. What is legally possible and what is morally correct are sadly confused. If you change the NHPCO stance on physician-assisted suicide, you will be adding inordinately to such confusion. Please refrain.

Thank you for your consideration,

D. Joy Riley

In reply, I received one e-mail thanking me for my “personal views,” and assuring me that this is a complicated issue, about which many people have strong opinions.

Do you know an organization contemplating physician-assisted suicide? Now is the time to enter the discussion. Take out your pen and paper, or your mobile device, and write . . .