The national advocates for physician assisted suicide were in Annapolis last week advocating for doctor assisted suicide (“Supporters of medically assisted suicide in Maryland say new legislators, sponsor increase bill’s chances this year,” Jan. 29). Maryland law currently allows doctors to administer potentially lethal doses of pain medication to terminally ill patients, even where that medication might result in the patient’s death, provided that the doctor’s intent is pain relief and not to cause the patient’s immediate death. The same protections apply to family members administering pain medication under the doctor’s direction. That standard obviously leaves doctors and family members with considerable discretion to lawfully ease a terminally ill patient towards death. It is a standard that has proved workable since its adoption in 1999 and is consistent with the physicians’ 2,300-year-old oath to “first do no harm.”
Maryland is now poised to take a major leap beyond this carefully crafted balance. Senate Bill 311 and House Bill 399 would allow a doctor to provide lethal doses of pills to a patient if the doctor believes in his subjective good faith that the patient has less than six months to live. Never mind that medical doctors from nearly every major medical institution in Maryland and Washington D.C. testified before the Senate that a doctor cannot accurately make such a diagnosis and that patients told they have six months to live often lead productive lives for years. Under the legislation, Maryland will move from a standard that restricts the administration of potentially lethal doses of medication to alleviate pain and suffering during the final stage of life to a new standard that allows the health care industry to facilitate suicide when it is consistent with the medical industry’s desire to avoid the expenses and inconveniences of natural death.
It is interesting that we arrive at this debate at the same time that suicide rates are rising at alarming rates. A Centers for Disease Control study shows that 25 states have increased suicide rates of more than 30 percent over the past 17 years. We are faced on the one hand with legislation that seeks a clear public acknowledgement that suicide is morally acceptable for people with months and even years of life ahead. At the same time, we are called on to send a strong, rational message to an increasingly troubled population of young people that suicide is a terrible tragedy, a line that must not be crossed. As much as legislators love to “split the proverbial baby” and give both sides a win, such a compromise will not work in this case. We must fully embrace one or the other of these issues fully with the recognition that studies demonstrate that suicide rates among the physically healthy rise when states legalize doctor assisted suicide.
Read more at the Baltimore Sun…