NRL News

“The appeal of physician-assisted suicide is based on a fantasy”

by | Oct 29, 2012

By Dave Andrusko

Ezekiel J. Emanuel

If you would have simply handed me a copy of “Four myth about Doctor-Assisted Suicide,” you could also have given me ten years to guess the author and I would still have come up blank. The op-ed, which appeared over the weekend on the New York Times’ “Opinonator” blog, was written by Ezekiel J. Emanuel.

Yes, he is Rahm Emanuel’s brother, but he has been wrong on his own on a host of critically important issues, including the wonderfulness of ObamaCare and rationing. But he has been opposed to legalizing suicide, so I shouldn’t have been terribly surprised he would offer his opinion ten days out from a ballot measure to legalize physician-assisted suicide in Massachusetts.

However, what is striking is how in only 973 words Emanuel could so deftly debunk not just any four myths but the four pillars on which the case for physician-assisted suicide rest.

They deal with pain; advanced technology; mass appeal; and a “good death.”  Since you can read the op-ed in its entirety at,”  let me highlight just two.

The battering ram that works so well for proponents is the specter of uncontrolled pain at the end of life. But, Emanuel writes,

“Patients themselves say that the primary motive is not to escape physical pain but psychological distress; the main drivers are depression, hopelessness and fear of loss of autonomy and control. Dutch researchers, for a report published in 2005, followed 138 terminally ill cancer patients and found that depressed patients were four times more likely to request euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide. Nearly half of those who requested euthanasia were depressed.

“In this light, physician-assisted suicide looks less like a good death in the face of unremitting pain and more like plain old suicide. Typically, our response to suicidal feelings associated with depression and hopelessness is not to give people the means to end their lives but to offer them counseling and caring.”

Then there is a kind of flip-side argument: patients are virtually helpless pawns, caught in the maw of uncontrolled and uncontrollable advances in medical technology. However Emanuel shrewdly observes

“But the ancient Greeks and Romans advocated euthanasia. In modern times, debate about legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide was revived with intensity in England in the late 19th century, after a famous debate at the Birmingham Speculative Club. The first such bill introduced in the United States was in 1905, before the discovery of antibiotics and dialysis, much less respirators and feeding tubes. If interest in legalizing euthanasia is tied to any trend in history, it is the rise of individualistic strains of thought that glorify personal choice, not the advances of high-tech medicine.”

A great op-ed, which ends with the proper approach and a right understanding:

“Instead of attempting to legalize physician-assisted suicide, we should focus our energies on what really matters: improving care for the dying — ensuring that all patients can openly talk with their physicians and families about their wishes and have access to high-quality palliative or hospice care before they suffer needless medical procedures. The appeal of physician-assisted suicide is based on a fantasy.”

Categories: Assisted Suicide