Physician-Assisted Suicide Hurts The Dying And Their Caregiver

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Terminally ill people deserve creative solutions for better quality of life and better palliative care, not suicide.

By Cecelia Lester

State Sen. Brad Hoylman is correct in observing that “suffering, terminally ill people deserve peace of mind and comfort.” But despite his compassionate language, his Medical Aid in Dying bill sanctions killing those who are suffering in order to relieve the citizens and leaders of New York from our obligation to meet the needs of the dying.

In order to meet the needs of those who seek physician-assisted suicide, we must first understand why it is sought. As bioethicist Charles Camosy has documented, “physical pain and suffering don’t even make the top five reasons people request it. … Pain is not a primary driving factor to physician-assisted suicide because for most terminally ill people, pain can be controlled through palliative care.”

The main reasons the dying provide are largely interpersonal ones: “loss of autonomy, decreased ability to engage in enjoyable activities, loss of dignity, loss of control of bodily functions and becoming a burden on others.” 

In their reasoning, a despairing trend emerges: Suffering people would rather die than be dependent on those around them. In this way, the community’s attitude toward the dying will influence the patient’s decision to seek physician-assisted suicide.  

The law, of course, affects this decision too. When continuing to live becomes a choice, dependency becomes a choice. This reinforces terminally ill people’s misperception that they are a burden to others when they simply could choose not to be.  

Each fear that drives patients to seek physician-assisted suicide can be experienced by people who are not terminally ill.  If death is a right, can it be denied from those who suffer but are not actively dying? Canada’s growing support for assisted suicide as a “solution” to poverty, homelessness and mental illness should alarm us.

Instead of meeting the needs of the dying, the state meets its own need for “peace of mind and comfort” in hastening the death of the vulnerable. After all, physician-assisted suicide offers the most convenient (and cheapest) option for everyone surrounding the dying. And because suicide is a final solution, those harmed by it cannot seek justice. The inability to properly safeguard against coercion is one reason the American Medical Association and the World Medical Organization oppose PAS.    

Because of its interpersonal nature, physician-assisted suicide cannot be defended as a personal freedom. It devastatingly redefines our collective understanding of law, medicine and care. Assisted-suicide laws teach the culture that some lives are not worth living; mounting evidence reveals that overall suicide rates are higher in jurisdictions which have enacted PAS. When the state offers suicide to some and suicide prevention to others, it sets a discriminatory standard, favoring the strong over the weak.

Tellingly, Sen. Hoylman invokes Oregon’s “original” law as a blueprint for New York’s proposal, claiming that parameters will be respected. But he betrays his own point: Oregon failed to uphold its original parameters, and its current law offers physician-assisted suicide to out-of-state patients. In addition, a bill that would dramatically reduce waiting periods, remove witness requirements and allow non-doctors to prescribe lethal medications is gaining support there.  

The end of life offers unequaled opportunities for the dying and for their caretakers. The dying are peacemakers. By bending to their needs, the hearts of the community are softened and humbled. We desperately need these gifts of the dying.

Suffering, terminally ill people deserve creative solutions for better quality of life and better palliative care, not suicide. The dying deserve to know that their dignity can never be lost.

Cecelia Lester is vice president of Feminists Choosing Life of NY.

Source: “Commentary: Physician-assisted suicide hurts the dying and their caregiver“,

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