On Sept. 9, California’s General Assembly approved legislation legalizing the regulation of doctor-assisted suicide. If the Senate follows through as predicted, California will be the fourth state to allow for individuals living with advanced illnesses to take their own life with the direct help of their physician and pharmacist. To some this news may be a welcome sign of progress in this era of patient autonomy and control. However, most Americans, especially physicians, understand that helping someone end their life is incompatible with a doctor’s fundamental role as a healer. It is understandable that a patient who is suffering from a terminal, painful or debilitating illness would rather die than live. Yet, is this “choice” of suicide a real good decision for them or merely the illusion of choice?

I would suggest that what is being considered is not good public policy for the following reasons:

Doctor prescribed suicide is a recipe for elder and disability abuse. It can easily put lethal drugs in the hands of those individuals who are abusers.

An abusive caregiver or relative can always pick up the lethal drugs from the pharmacy and give them to the patient with or without the vulnerable person’s consent. We must keep in mind that existing laws regulating this “choice” do not require a witness to be present.

Can we expect that the government and all insurance companies will do the right thing with regard to costly treatments? Or would they more likely to go with the cheaper “choice” by deciding only to pay for the drugs to end a patient’s life? This is what happened to Barbara Wagner in Oregon, where doctor prescribed suicide is legal.

Most people know someone who has been misdiagnosed or has outlived a terminal diagnosis. Can we trust doctors and insurance companies to know what the future really holds for us?  

Doctor prescribed death or assisting someone to end their life is neither safe nor compassionate care.

Ryan Verret

Louisiana Right to LIfe