Thursday, September 27, 2007

Physician-assisted suicide

Physician-assisted suicide is legal in Oregon, the only state in the United States that allows it. In the Netherlands, it has been legal since 2002, but practiced since the 1980s.

As a nurse who has worked in palliative care and as the owner of two dogs that died of cancer, I have my opinions on the topic. Although it devastated me to lose my two dogs, Rox, a golden retriever, and most recently, Oscar, our greyhound, I knew that I was doing the right thing for them. They were suffering and it was the only thing I could do for them.

When I worked in palliative care, sometimes family members would ask me if there was any way we could help their loved one through the dying process. While most accepted the answer ("no"), some family members and friends got very angry. Their argument was always that we can put our family pets out of misery but we can’t to our loved ones.

I understand that frustration. I remember looking after patients who were just hanging on and suffering for what seemed like forever. I have to say though, that I never had a patient ask me that question – ever.

Am I for physician-assisted suicide? I’m not against it. I feel that if someone is terminally ill and determined to end his or her own life, it would be most humane to allow it to be done properly and with dignity, rather than furtively and with friends or family who are then possibly caught in a legal web.

According to an article from the University of Utah, that some of the fears of allowing physician-assisted suicide were unfounded. The researchers found that not having insurance (in the US) did not increase the number of suicides, nor did economic status, race, ethnicity, or education.

Not surprising to the researchers was the fact that there were more patients with AIDS who opted for physician-assisted suicide than with any other illness: “We’ve known for a long time from studies elsewhere that rates of assisted dying outside the law were much higher in people with AIDS,” particularly in areas with large, supportive gay communities such as San Francisco says the study’s lead author, bioethicist Margaret Battin in the article. Dr. Battin is a University of Utah distinguished professor of philosophy and adjunct professor of internal medicine. “It’s not a surprise to find high rates where physician-assisted dying is legal.”

News for Today:
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Forget technique — know your breasts, Canadian Cancer Society says
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Kaiser Permanente study: Alcohol amount, not type -- wine, beer, liquor -- triggers breast cancer
For some diabetics, burden of care rivals complications of disease
Study shows autism symptoms can improve into adulthood
Study finds post-traumatic stress symptoms in adolescent children of cancer patients
Married oesophageal cancer patients fare worse in some quality of life aspects than single patients
Less invasive lymph node biopsy method could spare thousands unnecessary operations
Doctor-aided suicide: No slippery slope


Terrie Farley Moran said...


Thanks for a thoughtful and thought provoking post, and for great information regarding the stats of assisted suicide.


Dawn said...

I find it interesting that none of your patients ever asked for help - rather it was friends and family.

Thought provoking post.