Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Keep Door Closed on Assisted Suicide


January 7, 2012

With the regularity of a metronome, Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden opens each new legislative session riding her hobby horse, a bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide. We oppose the notion on practical grounds.

We see physician assisted suicide as a dangerous solution looking for a problem to solve. There is no personal or medical reason for a law to expedite an exit from this life for a person who wants to do it. Sadly we know plenty of people who have managed without assistance. And those who are terminally ill have options too. They can write a living will which directs their caregivers not to keep them alive artificially. For those who are incapacitated, compassionate palliative care in the hands of responsible doctors includes the prescription of needed medications that might lead to the "unintended" consequence of a peaceful passing. Medical ethics doesn't need legislative sanction. Good doctors know the polar relationship between palliative care and prescribing death.

Why do we oppose physician assisted suicide? We think it's a modern day Pandora's Box. Some of the issues that inevitably will come out of that dark box: Who or what will decide when a terminally ill person would be better off dead than alive -- the family or close relatives? A legal guardian? An heir? The state through rationing of care for any reason, but predictably to save money? A death panel protecting limited resources by choosing who will benefit from expensive care compared to who won't? Will the famous for whatever reason rank the less famous? That has been shamefully the case for decades in the apportioning of too few available organs for transplants into the many who need them? Will the rich rank the poor? And one of the biggest questions of all, do we want to trust the judgment, competency, and fairness of the government bureaucrats who will inevitably come to control the whole question, bureaucrats who have botched so many other sensitive, well-intentioned things they have had charge of for generations?

Every one of these questions (and dozens more) have scary, predictable answers. Worse, no matter how noble the visionaries' responses at the outset, we have seen such responses in other places degenerate into political and moral nightmares.

Physician assisted suicide is analogous to the story of Frankenstein. We should pull the plug on this dangerous experiment before it ever has a chance to leave the lab.