Six false ideas about assisted suicide
False idea No. 1. An assisted suicide law protects important patient rights.
This law offers no new protection. Patients control their own lives. They already have the right to end their own lives in every state. This law offers no new “right”, but it does protect doctors involved in patient death by legalizing lethal medication, concealing the fact of suicide, and blocking investigation.
Assisted suicide laws come from an out-of-state organization that spends millions of dollars to promote these laws. This organization brings its own law designed to protect doctors involved in patient death, assigns itself as guardian of the law once passed, and encourages patients to see its own doctors, whose records are not public. All laws passed in other states have identical characteristics, as all are written by the same organization.
These laws provide little actual patient protection, though they may appear to have “safeguards” and recording requirements.
False idea No. 2. Suffering patients need this law.
Suffering patients in Hawaii have access to palliative care and pain relief. Patients who are terminally ill have access to hospice care in addition. Patients do not need to die early in order to end suffering in Hawaii.
Even in Oregon, only one-fourth of the people asking to die mention suffering as a reason. The law does not mention suffering at all.
False idea No. 3. Most people in Hawaii want this law.
“Survey” results in the newspaper make it sound as though people agree. However, surveys are conducted by people with something to prove, and often are put together by marketers skilled at asking questions in a way that gets the answers they want. In fact, nobody has actually conducted a meaningful survey in Hawaii. If you talk to your friends you may find that many are unaware of the issue and have no opinions, and would be appalled to know about the laws being considered.
False idea No. 4. Oregon has had an assisted suicide law for almost 20 years. This proves it’s OK.
Actually, this probably proves that the Oregon record-keeping is meaningless. No human endeavor involving sickness and death operates for 20 years without abuse, fraud, complications, and difficulty. Oregon’s records were deliberately set up by the organization to conceal problems, and they have done so for 20 years.
False idea No. 5. Your doctor can prescribe “the pill” so you can die when you choose.
There is no such pill. The medication prescribed for assisted suicide consists of 90 capsules full of bitter powder. These capsules have to be opened, dumped into a bowl and mixed with some fluid to make the mix drinkable. The medication must be taken quickly, in order not to fall asleep while trying to get it down. Death is not dependable. The drugs have taken as long as 4 days to work, and a few patients in Oregon have wakened up without dying at all.
False idea No. 6.Doctors should be allowed to provide medication so patients can die when they want.
Hawaii emphasizes living all of life, and the state puts considerable effort into helping people who feel so bad that they think about taking their own lives. Doctors devote their entire professional lives to helping people live the best lives possible.
A law that protects doctors who deliberately end life creates doctors who bring death rather than doctors who revere and preserve life. Even the state cannot bring death in Hawaii. Doctors, of all people, should never do so.
Michael H Plumer, MD, MBA, HMDC, Kauai, is board certified in hospice medicine and anesthesiology, with a graduate certificate in healthcare ethics, and practices on Kauai.