Friday, March 27, 2015

Are we nearing a turning point for doctor-assisted suicide/death with dignity?

The NY Times has a thoughtful piece looking back at recent changes, and considering what hasn't changed:  Stigma Around Physician-Assisted Dying Lingers

"Five states, in various forms, countenance doctor-assisted dying. Others are considering it. In California, legislation to permit such assistance is scheduled to receive a hearing this week. A lawsuit in New York that seeks a similar result was filed in State Supreme Court last month by a group of doctors and dying patients. The emotional wallop of these issues is self-evident, and it is captured in the latest installment of Retro Report, a series of video documentaries that explore major news stories of the past — looking back at where we have been to see where we may be headed.
"Arguments, pro and con, have not changed much over the years. Assisted dying was and is anathema to many religious leaders, notably in the Roman Catholic Church. For the American Medical Association, it remains “fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer.”
Some opponents express slippery-slope concerns: that certain patients might feel they owe it to their overburdened families to call it quits. That the poor and the uninsured, disproportionately, will have their lives cut short. That medication might be prescribed for the mentally incompetent. That doctors might move too readily to bring an end to those in the throes of depression. “We should address what would give them purpose, not give them a handful of pills,” Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, a prominent oncologist and medical ethicist, told Retro Report.
But to those in the other camp, the slippery-slope arguments are overwrought. Citing available information from the few jurisdictions where assisted dying is permitted, supporters of “dying with dignity” laws say that those looking for an early exit tend to be relatively well off and well educated. There is no evidence, they say, to suggest that such laws have been used promiscuously by either patients or their doctors. As for the medical association’s ethical judgment, it “focuses too much on the physician, and not enough on the patient,” said Dr. Marcia Angell, a former executive editor of The New England Journal of Medicine. Writing in The New York Review of Books in 2012, Dr. Angell asked, “Why should anyone — the state, the medical profession, or anyone else — presume to tell someone else how much suffering they must endure as their life is ending?”

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