The question of physician-assisted suicide has come up again. The Patient Choice and Control at End of Life Act was signed into law last week in Vermont, making it legal for doctors in that state to prescribe lethal injections. Vermont joins Oregon, Washington and Montana as states that allow this practice.
Of course, prescribing a shot that will lead to death is in direct opposition to the Hippocratic oath. Physician-assisted suicide also runs counter to the philosophy of hospice care. Those who promote physician-assisted suicide refer to the act as “death with dignity.” We feel that hospice care provides “end of life with dignity.”
We at Hope Hospice work to ease the discomfort brought on by a terminal illness. We have seen patient pain relieved through medication.
Famed hospice physician Dr. Ira Byock points out, “The hospice focus is on life and the alleviation of suffering,” whereas “the goal of assisted suicide and euthanasia is death.”
In the Wall Street Journal (May 25-26, 2013), Dr. Paul McHugh a former psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins Hospital wrote an op-ed column about the new Vermont law.
He pointed out: The advance of the hospice movement has made a shambles of the terminators’ insistence that medicine prolongs suffering and denies dignity. The doctors, nurses and social workers committed to hospice care demonstrate how an alliance with nature at life’s end plays out in just the way the medical profession intends. As hospice ways become more familiar, the public can overcome the fears that the terminators used to win over the Vermont legislature.
So-called right to die legislation has been considered recently in four other states: Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and our neighboring state of Kansas.
The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization has stated: When symptoms or circumstances become intolerable to a patient, effective therapies are now available to assure relief from almost all forms of distress during the terminal phase of an illness without purposefully hastening death as the means to that end. These modalities and the means to safely administer them must bewithin the expertise of and available from all hospice/palliative care providers as an alternative to [physician-assisted suicide].