NRL News

Assisted Suicide Proposal: “Death Panels on Steroids”

by | Jul 25, 2012

By Wesley Smith

Wesley J. Smith

I often say that if you want to see where and how society will next go wrong, just look at the articles on ethics and culture currently being published in the world’s top medical and bioethics journals.  Latest case in point, an article in the New England Journal of Medicine [NEJM] urging that doctors be taken out of assisted suicide because too many refuse to participate.

We are on the case over at the Daily Caller. From “Death Panels on Steroids”:

Now, the NEJM has given a platform for Dr. Lisa Lehmann, director of  the Center for Bioethics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and  researcher Julian Prokopetz to lay out a proposal for facilitating what they  call ‘assisted dying.’ In their article, ’Redefining Physicians’ Role in Assisted  Dying,’ the authors address what they see as a real problem: There aren’t enough doctors willing to participate in assisted suicide. As the authors state, ‘Many medical professionals are uncomfortable with the idea of physicians playing an active role in ending patient’s lives.’ Furthermore, they explain that the American Medical Association and various state medical groups oppose legalization.

Oh dear, oh dear!  What to do? [Quoting Lehmann and Prokopetz]

“We believe there is a compelling case for legalizing assisted dying, but assisted dying need not be physician-assisted.”

[Then returning to the Daily Caller article]

And how do they suggest that this hurdle between diagnosis and prescription be overcome? Simple. Take the doctor out of doctor-prescribed suicide by setting up a government-facilitated process that will make it easier for patients to cross the River Styx. As Lehmann and Prokopetz explain:

“We envision the development of a central state or federal mechanism to confirm the authenticity and eligibility of patients’ requests, dispense medication, and monitor demand and use. Such a mechanism would obviate physician involvement beyond usual care.”

They see this as a way of overcoming the reluctance of most doctors to assist in suicide, while they remain oblivious (or indifferent) to protecting the lives of vulnerable patients.

So, we set up assisted suicide prescribing clinics! Details of how the newly proposed system would work were revealed by Dr.  Lehmann in an interview with ABC News. She explained that doctors would only be responsible for making the diagnosis of a terminal illness. Then, the patient should be able to pick up the lethal drugs from a government-authorized, all-purpose location where a government bureaucrat would determine the patient’s eligibility for a death prescription. In addition to soothing the sensibilities — and deadening the consciences — of doctors, moving physicians into the background would have another effect. It would increase the number of assisted suicides.

Worse, there would be a utilitarian stake for society. Let’s consider this for a moment. Do we really think that a government that is constantly looking for ways to contain health care costs will be likely to deny death eligibility? Do we think that government death-control officials will do the right thing — or the cheap thing? Take this proposal, coupled with government-run health care, and you have ‘death panels on steroids.’

Remember, this proposal was not published in some Internet fringe journal, but the New England Journal of Medicine!  That makes the view, ipso facto, respectable. Lest some of you consider that health care cost containment and assisted suicide don’t go hand-in-hand, read this entry about how some want to pay for Vermont’s new single payer health care system.

Editor’s note. This appeared on Wesley’s great blog.

Categories: Assisted Suicide