The Fraud of Physician-Assisted Suicide
The law permits what has come to be known as physician-assisted suicide. It and the appellate ruling have been hailed as victories for patient autonomy and the right to commit suicide. Indeed, the New York Times, in praising the ruling, editorialized. "The voters of Oregon acted with great humanity when they decided to allow terminally ill people to determine when they have suffered enough."
But did the voters really do that? A closer look at the law shows they did not.
In fact the law lets a patient who is expected to die within six months ask his doctor for lethal drugs. The doctor can say no, as he has every right to do. But since a patient cannot end his own life without the doctor's consent, the law is no milestone on the road to individual freedom.
What happens when a patient makes such a request of his doctor? The state's requirements are "stringent," according to Dr. Peter Goodwin, a long-time family physician and an emeritus associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine at Oregon Health and Science University. They include, Goodwin writes, "the attending physician's diagnosis/prognosis and determination that the patient is informed, capable and acting voluntarily."
Note that the attending physician must be convinced that the patient knows what he's doing. Whether or not you think doctors have a special ability to see the absence of volition in an action (I don't), this requirement is hardly consistent with "allow[ing] terminally ill people to determine when they have suffered enough."
But there's more. The law states, "A consulting physician must examine the patient and the medical records and concur with the attending physician's diagnosis/prognosis and assessment of the patient."
Dr. Goodwin comments: "If the attending physician or the consulting physician thinks the patient may suffer from a psychological disorder causing impaired judgment, the physician must refer the patient for evaluation and counseling. No medication may be prescribed unless it is certain the patient's judgment is not impaired" (emphasis added).
Although these requirements are called "stringent," they are actually elastic and stacked against the patient. What terminally ill patient in great pain could not be said to have impaired judgment? What's the difference between a judgment that's impaired and one that clashes with the doctor's? In a conflict between a patient who sees no better future and wants to die and a physician (perhaps supported by the patient's family) who sees the future differently, who will prevail? The doctor, of course. Yet the law is considered a blow for patient autonomy. How can there be "death with dignity" when the patient must humbly petition the doctors, then meekly wait for a unanimous ruling?
Whatever one thinks of the legal merits of Attorney General Ashcroft's attempt to use federal anti-drug laws to thwart Oregon's voters, physician-assisted suicide is a fraud. As Dr. Thomas Szasz writes in his book Fatal Freedom: The Ethics and Politics of Suicide, "The term 'physician-assisted suicide' [PAS] is intrinsically mendacious. The physician is the principal, not the assistant. In the normal use of the English language, the person who assists another is the subordinate; the person whom he assists is his superior.... However, the physician engaging in PAS is superior to the patient: He determines who qualifies for the 'treatment' and prescribes the drug for it."
In other words, the Oregon law has nothing to do with the freedom of the individual and everything to do with the power of doctors. If freedom were the concern, we would simply repeal the drug and prescription laws, and recognize each adult's right to buy any kind of drugs.
Why empower doctors? Suicide isn't a medical issue. It's a moral issue.
Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation (fff.org) in Fairfax, Va., author of Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State, and editor of The Freeman magazine.
Copyright © 2004 The Baltimore Chronicle. All rights reserved.
Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.
This story was published on June 28, 2004.
Local Stories, Events
Ref. : Civic Events
Ref. : Arts & Education Events
Ref. : Public Service Notices
Books, Films, Arts & Education
Ref. : Letters to the editor
Health Care & Environment
12.17 Brazilian police foil million-dollar fraud to export precious wood to China [clear-cutting forests harshly impacts all life above and below ground-level for decades; it decreases oxygen production and seguestration of CO2 and increases area, frequency and duration of drought]
12.13 English rivers polluted by powerful insecticides, first tests reveal [Are similar tests of U.S. waters conducted by the EPA anymore? We think not...]
News Media Matters
12.17 A Report to Our Readers
US Politics, Policy & 'Culture'
12.17 'Making America Stupid Again': Outrage Over Forbidden 7 Words You Can't Say at Trump's CDC [“Stupid is as stupid does.” –Forrest Gump]
12.16 Poverty in US set to increase due to Donald Trump's policies, says UN official [oligarchy-controlled countries are wonderful for the very rich]
12.16 Republicans Despise the Working Class [oligarchy-controlled countries are wonderful for the very rich]
12.17 Venue of last resort: the climate lawsuits threatening the future of big oil [something else Republicans are packing the courts for...]
12.15 Who Pays for Judicial Races? The Politics of Judicial Elections 2015-16 [desperately packing the courts at all levels to protect white power & unregulated capitalism]
12.13 US Concern Over 'Pervasive' High-Level Corruption Surging Under Trump: Poll [anyone surprised?]
12.17 Trump’s Misuse of Intelligence on Iran [immoral behavior that could lead to War]
Economics, Crony Capitalism
12.17 How a Philadelphia nun became the unlikely face of conscientious capitalism [Why don't we teach morality in Law & Business schools?]
12.16 The Republican Tax Bill Provides Huge Benefits to People Who Don’t Work. But Only if They’re Rich. [oligarchy-controlled countries are wonderful for the very rich]
12.16 The United States Is Now as Unequal as Russia. And That’s Before the Tax Bill. [oligarchy-controlled countries are wonderful for the very rich]
12.16 EU to force firms to reveal true owners in wake of Panama Papers [what are the chances oligarchy-controlled countries (esp. America and Russia) ever agree to fight tax evasion and money landering? International agencies must all mandate common regulations as a condition for UN membership, trade agreements, world bank loans, etc.]
12.15 FCC Chair Ajit Pai 'Shows Just How Dumb He Thinks Americans Are' With Video Mocking Net Neutrality [he won't discuss how giving more monopoly power to cable ISPs will increase consumer costs and stifle innovation]
12.13 The “Death Tax” Cargo Cult [we lack for morals and sanity in U.S. media & politics]
International & Futurism
12.17 Africa’s new elite force: women gunning for poachers and fighting for a better life [a good model that converts victims of abuse and cruelty into positive activists with good jobs...]
12.14 Israeli undercover soldiers seen arresting Palestinian protesters [Palestinians need more and better weapons for a fair fight]