Is Assisted Suicide a Human Right?

Is Assisted Suicide a Human Right?

 

The Kings County Medical Society in New York recently hosted a brunch with New York State legislators.  One of the guests was Richard Gottfried, chair of the New York State Assembly Health Committee, who is cosponsoring A2694, a bill legalizing [assisted suicide]. As a medical oncologist with 30 years’ experience treating seriously ill patients, I have concerns about it, and I expressed them to Gottfried.

Once legalized, assisted death would become an accepted treatment option. A physician who cares for dying patients would then be obligated to discuss it with all such patients. Even if it were not directly raised, all patients with terminal illness speaking with their physicians about options would know that assisted dying is on the table. This might create subtle pressure on those already burdened with serious illness…

I also take seriously the warning that some have raised that  there might be a connection between relaxed attitudes toward hastening death for the terminally ill and our nationwide epidemic of suicide and death from despair…

Those who avail themselves of this option, should it become legal in New York, can say that the doctor said it was OK. The doctor can say, I’m just doing what the patient wants, and a consulting doctor providing a required second opinion approved it. The consulting doctor can say, this isn’t my action—it’s up to the treating doctor and patient. A person is suddenly dead, and everyone involved can point to someone else.  Do we really want to start down this road? Developments in the Netherlands and Belgium, where the indications for medically assisted dying have gradually expanded, suggest that we ought to exercise extreme caution in eroding long-established safeguards.

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