Newspaper logo  
  The Fraud of Physician-Assisted Suicide


The Fraud of Physician-Assisted Suicide

by Sheldon Richman

How can there be "death with dignity" when the patient must humbly petition the doctors, then meekly wait for a unanimous ruling?
Freedom is so little understood in this "land of the free" that it is often confused with its opposite. Case in point: Oregon's 1994 Death With Dignity Act, which a federal appeals court recently shielded from attack by US Attorney General John Ashcroft.

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 ( 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

03.16 The Guardian view on air pollution: moral pusillanimity, political ineptitude

03.16 Pollutionwatch: Cold snap worsens particle load of air

03.16 Energy sector must use new tech to ensure the vulnerable aren't left behind

03.16 It's 50 years since climate change was first seen. Now time is running out

03.15 WHO launches health review after microplastics found in 90% of bottled water [health risks are being assessed]

03.14 World’s great forests could lose half of all wildlife as planet warms – report [ho-hum...]

03.14 Sky-high prices of everything make US healthcare the world's most expensive [legal corruption of government Makes America Less Great Again, and more of a mafia-state]

03.13 Microplastic pollution in oceans is far worse than feared, say scientists

03.13 Krill fishing poses serious threat to Antarctic ecosystem, report warns [What's the cheapest and easiest way to kill all life here? I know, let's...]

03.12 Climate change is a disaster foretold, just like the first world war

03.12 Arizona Utility Opts for Solar and Storage to Meet Peak Demand

03.10 20,000 Scientists are Deeply Alarmed about Humanity and So should you Be [Letter Warning Humanity]

News Media Matters

03.15 Verizon Will Fix Broadband Networks, Landlines to Resolve Investigation [Will Trump's judges help or hurt The Public in situations like this?]

03.13 11 Mayors Applauded for Refusing to Do Business With Companies That Don't Support Net Neutrality

03.10 Neo-McCarthyism in the Age of Goebbelists: the Sad, Sad State of Mainstream Media

Daily: FAIR Blog
The Daily Howler

US Politics, Policy & 'Culture'

03.16 Package Bombs Are Killing People in Texas but Donald Trump Hasn’t Said a Thing. There’s a Reason for That.

03.16 N.R.A. Proposes Having Second Armed Teacher in Every Classroom to Stop First Armed Teacher from Misfiring

03.16 Cash in: the rich guys in Trump's cabinet who can't resist public money [morals and rules for behavior are for little people]

03.16 Mueller subpoenas Trump Organization for documents related to Russia – report

03.15 Blasting #BankLobbyistAct, Warren Unveils "The Ending Too Big to Jail Act" to Fight Wall Street Greed

03.15 'Enough': US students come together in spectacular walkout to end gun violence [the world rolls their eyes]

03.14 Gowdy breaks from GOP committee, says Russia worked to undermine Clinton [A moral Republican with backbone has been found! Is that why he's quitting politics?]

03.14 ‘Trump, Inc.’ Podcast: Where’d Trump’s Record Inauguration Spending Go? ‘It’s Inexplicable’ [podcast]

03.14 Break the Duopoly

03.14 'Recipe for War': Experts Warn Pick of Pompeo Intensifies Risk of US Attack on Iran

03.14 Trump Picks 'Actual Torturer' Gina Haspel as Next CIA Director

Justice Matters

03.14 Manafort could face ‘rest of life in prison,’ judge says

High Crimes?


Economics, Crony Capitalism

03.11 Capital Inequity: Conditioned to Accept Collective Enslavement and Self-Nullification

International & Futurism

03.16 The long read: Vladimir Putin’s politics of eternity

03.16 Australian man who raped Indian orphans released immediately after conviction

03.15 Finland is the happiest country in the world, says UN report

03.15 Busting the Myth of ‘Welfare Makes People Lazy’ [Are all conservative economic theories based on anecdotal gossip of ill-informed, often-biased people? There does seem to be a pattern...]

03.15 Donald Trump admits making up 'facts' in trade meeting with Justin Trudeau [“Stupid is as stupid does.” –Forrest Gump]

03.15 Can we fix it? The repair cafes waging war on throwaway culture

03.15 Spy poisoning: allies back UK and blast Russia at UN security council [videos]

03.14 Rodrigo Duterte to pull Philippines out of international criminal court

We are a non-profit Internet-only newspaper publication founded in 1973. Your donation is essential to our survival.

You can also mail a check to:
Baltimore News Network, Inc.
P.O. Box 42581
Baltimore, MD 21284-2581
This site Web

Public Service Ads: