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California Medical Association De-professionalizes Medicine, Puts Patients at Risk by taking “neutral stance” on physician-assisted suicide

by | May 20, 2015

Editor’s note. The following was provided by The American Academy of Medical Ethics.

AAME-logoreBristol, TN—The American Academy of Medical Ethics denounces the California Medical Association’s decision to take a “neutral stand” on the legalization of physician-assisted suicide in their state.

“Physician-assisted suicide is not about giving patients the right to die, but about giving doctors the right to kill,” said Executive Director for the American Academy of Medical Ethics David Stevens, MD, MA (Ethics).

This week’s decision by the California Medical Association may have been met with elation by pro-suicide groups, but it is angering many of its own members, many of whom are also members of the American Academy of Medical Ethics.

“Suicide is tragic, but not illegal, in California,” said Dr. Stevens. “But physician-assisted suicide is just wrong. Taking this step only further de-professionalizes the practice of medicine, and it doesn’t protect our patients.”

In the past in states where medical societies have adopted a neutral stance, physician-assisted suicide was quickly legalized.

“For more than 2,500 years, the foundation of the doctor-patient relationship has been trust—a trust that physicians would not take the lives of their patients or help their patients kill themselves,” said Dr. Stevens. “Without that commitment to ‘do no harm,’ physicians are no longer professionals but untrustworthy technocrats.”

A bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide on the rationale of relieving suffering is currently making its way through California’s legislative system. However, so-called “safeguards” in bills like this protect the doctor, not the patient. And once legalized, it won’t stop with just alleviating suffering.

“Suffering is subjective, so how can you deny this new ‘right’ to a terminally ill patient who can’t swallow?” said Dr. Stevens. “And what about patients who suffer with chronic diseases or newborns with disabilities or mental suffering? Don’t they merit release? Where does it stop? In every country in Europe where physician-assisted suicide is legal, physicians give lethal injections to these groups of people, not simply just terminally ill patients.”

Legalizing physician-assisted suicide is dangerous for physicians. It takes no skill and is the “easy solution” for dealing with difficult patients. Plus, it gives doctors the power to be judge, jury and assistant executioner.

It is also dangerous for families who won’t be informed their loved one is about to kill themselves and it will cause dissension and sadness among those left behind.

It is dangerous for patients. The right to die will quickly become the duty to die to avoid depleting inheritances or being a burden. It will cause more elder abuse. Terminal patients desire suicide because they are depressed, but only 5 percent of patients killing themselves in Oregon get an expert evaluation.

And it is dangerous for society. The cheapest form of treatment for disease is a handful of lethal pills costing less than $100.

“That is scary in a healthcare system whose greatest challenge is high cost,” said Dr. Stevens.

“Even the American Medical Association’s code of ethics says that physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as a healer,” said Dr. Stevens. “This decision by the California Medical Association to take a neutral stand is like releasing a cobra in your house to eliminate your rat problem. Yes, it is a ‘solution,’ but it is a solution that is much more dangerous than the problem needing to be solved.”

The better alternative to physician-assisted suicide is to: train more palliative care physicians; modify laws to allow adequate pain/symptom control at the end of life; encourage better identification and treatment of depression; promote hospice; and mobilize communities to provide emotional and relational end-of-life support to struggling patients and families.

The American Academy of Medical Ethics and its members across the country stand opposed to the legalization of physician-assisted suicide.

Categories: Assisted Suicide