Dr. Tim Jessick: Wisconsin shouldn’t allow assisted suicide

A bill introduced last week to legalize assisted suicide would be disastrous for Wisconsin. It would shrink end-of-life treatment options for older adults, people with disabilities and others facing terminal diagnoses.

Assisted suicide compromises the role of a physician as a healer and runs contrary to the position of the largest medical society in the country, the American Medical Association. The physician-patient relationship is one that must operate on trust that the physician will do everything in his or her power to heal the patient, and never do the patient harm. The American Medical Association recognizes how assisted suicide undermines the primary role of the physician as healer and reaffirmed its opposition again this year.

Proponents of assisted suicide cite unbearable pain at the end of life as a reason to legalize assisted suicide. But with all the advances in palliative care, physicians can manage pain better than ever and make patients comfortable. Interestingly, in the state of Oregon where assisted suicide is legal, pain isn’t even among the top five reasons patients report seeking out assisted suicide. The chief reasons patients in Oregon give for wanting to die by assisted suicide is “loss of autonomy,” “decreasing ability to participate in activities that make life enjoyable” and “loss of dignity.”

Legalized assisted suicide also opens the door to perverse incentives for insurance companies looking to cut costs. Dr. Brian Callister, a Nevada physician, experienced firsthand insurance companies denying his patients treatments while suggesting assisted suicide pills instead. If assisted suicide becomes legal, palliative care and other life-extending treatment options would quickly disappear because they are costly. The cost of administering a series of deadly pills will always be cheaper than real treatment options.

Furthermore, the process is largely experimental. Some victims of assisted suicide have experienced long, slow deaths after ingesting pills meant to end their life quickly. Some have reportedly yelled in pain while others succumb at an alarmingly slow rate — so much so that even proponents of the practice wince at these horrifying outcomes.

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