Aid In Dying At Odds With A Doctor’s Role

In the letter “Assisted suicide poses no threat,” June 7, the writer advocates medical aid in dying, also known as assisted suicide, due to reported benefits it brings in communication around end-of-life care and hospice utilization, without causing heightened risk for vulnerable populations. Yet, do we need this fatal treatment in order to improve communication or hospice utilization? We can improve those things without it.

Helping patients end their own lives is not a necessary or even desirable option for those with terminal disease. It is intrinsically in conflict with the role of the physician as healer. And when healing is not possible, palliation of suffering plus personal accompaniment by the physician are the tasks at hand. These, admittedly, have not been consistently or universally done well. Yet the experience at successful hospice programs and hospitals for the dying, such as Calvary Hospital in New York City, shows that it can be done very well. We physicians can and must do better.

If intentional death be proposed as treatment for suffering, where shall we draw the line? For unlike every other intervention, it eliminates not the suffering, but the sufferer. It is irreversible. And it precludes any other treatment. Further, there is no “bright line” for enacting assisted death that cannot be moved back earlier and earlier into the patient’s illness since the definition of intolerable suffering can be knowable only to the patient.

Let us pour our resources and energy into improved caring, not intentional death, at the end of life.

Stanley L. Bukowski, M.D.

Amherst

Source: “Aid in dying at odds with a doctor’s role, TimesUnion.com

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