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Commentary: Pledge to ‘do no harm’ and say no to physician-assisted suicide

by | Apr 24, 2024

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

While cleaning up my emails I came across this excellent commentary by Amy Smith, who is a physician-assistant in Minnesota titled: “Pledge to ‘do no harm’ and say No to physician-assisted suicide”.

Smith’s commentary was published in the Minnesota Reformer on April 13, 2024. Smith begins her article by explaining why she opposes assisted suicide.

I’ve spent the past 20 years of my career as a physician assistant saving lives in the emergency department. On a daily basis, I pledge to “do no harm” to my patients as I care for them and render lifesaving aid.

As a medical provider, the greatest harm I can imagine is being responsible for ending my patient’s life. That is why I am deeply troubled by ongoing conversations at the Minnesota Legislature to legalize physician-assisted suicide.

This proposed legislation goes against the fact that a health care providers’ obligation is to care for their patients — not to assist in killing them — no matter the circumstance.

Smith is also concerned with the inevitable future extensions to the legislation.

It is also evident that limits on assisted suicide erode over time. These laws often begin with eligibility limited to terminal illness and a six-month life expectancy; however, countries like Belgium, Netherlands and Canada have gradually expanded criteria to offer assisted suicide to people with depression, disability and chronic pain, as well as people with limited income. Patients often seek assisted suicide out of fear of becoming a burden. Legalizing it reinforces harmful misconceptions that people experiencing chronic illness are a burden and encourages people to end their lives prematurely. And euphemisms like “medical aid in dying” make it more palatable for people to accept this as okay, masking the fact that medical professionals are prescribing medication that results in suicide.

Smith continues by sharing her personal experience with death and dying:

Like many Minnesotans, suicide is also a deeply personal subject for me. My dad ended his own life when I was 12 years old. Most people would say that my dad’s death at age 35 was a tragedy. They’d say we should try our best to prevent suicide. I agree.

I also lost my mom to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis when she was only 62. This proposed legislation tells us that it would not have been a tragedy for my mom, with the assistance of her medical provider, to end her own life prematurely. Instead, this legislation says it would have been the caring thing to do. I disagree.

Both situations are absolute tragedies. In both scenarios, a person should have access to supportive, person-centered care — not a legal path to suicide.

Smith concludes by repeating why she opposes assisted suicide.

Is physician-assisted suicide really how we want to care for patients in Minnesota? As a physician assistant, wife, mother — and as an orphan daughter — my answer is a resounding ‘No’.

Thank you, Amy Smith, for your personal and professional opposition to killing your patients.

Editor’s note. This appeared on Mr. Schadenberg blog and is reposted with permission.

Categories: Assisted Suicide