Last month, a judge in Montana ruled that patients have the right to a doctor’s assistance in their intentional death by suicide. Baroness Warnock argues that doctors who will not kill their patients on demand are “wicked.” The States of Washington and Oregon already have legalized “Aide in Dying.” Is it now my duty to inform my patients on Hospice that they have a “right” to “safe(?) and legal” death by prescription?
Here is part of a poignant Letter to the Editor from an Internal Medicine doc in Oregon:
I was caring for a 76-year-old man who came in with a sore on his arm.
The sore was ultimately diagnosed as a malignant melanoma, and I referred him to two cancer specialists for evaluation and therapy.
I had known this patient and his wife for more than a decade. He was an avid hiker, a popular hobby here in Oregon. As he went through his therapy, he became less able to do this activity, becoming depressed, which was documented in his chart.
During this time, my patient expressed a wish for doctor-assisted suicide to one of the cancer specialists.
Rather than taking the time and effort to address the question of depression, or ask me to talk with him as his primary care physician and as someone who knew him, the specialist called me and asked me to be the “second opinion” for his suicide.
She told me that barbiturate overdoses “work very well” for patients like this, and that she had done this many times before.
I told her that assisted suicide was not appropriate for this patient and that I did NOT concur.
I was very concerned about my patient’s mental state, and I told her that addressing his underlying issues would be better than simply giving him a lethal prescription.
Unfortunately, my concerns were ignored, and approximately two weeks later my patient was dead from an overdose prescribed by this doctor.
His death certificate, filled out by this doctor, listed the cause of death as melanoma.
The public record is not accurate.
My patient did not die from his cancer, but at the hands of a once-trusted colleague.
This experience has affected me, my practice, and my understanding of what it means to be a physician.