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Assisted suicide is wrong for doctors, patients

Assisted suicide is a dangerous public policy that hurts the most vulnerable in society. As a physician, I see patients when they are most in need of care. The last thing that patients need, especially now in a global pandemic, is for death to become more accessible.

Assisted suicide subverts the role of the physician as healer, undermines the physician-patient relationship, and ultimately, is a rather blunt weapon for the most serious, complicated situations in a patient’s life.

It seems that 2,500 years after Hippocrates, assisted suicide proponents are not keeping up with the advances that STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) has brought forth when confronting death; but they have become rather dull, unimaginative and regressive. I urge the New Mexico Legislature to find a better solution to end-of-life concerns instead of institutionalizing death-on-demand.

Assisted suicide fails to address the primary reasons that patients seek it. When justifying assisted suicide, proponents often cite the reasons of incurable pain or suffering. However, these reasons for choosing assisted suicide are simply unsupported by the data.

In Oregon, where assisted suicide has been legal the longest, incurable pain or suffering does not even make it into the top five reasons that patients seek assisted suicide. The top five reasons that patients seek assisted suicide are existential or disability-related concerns.

These top five reasons include: being less able to engage in activities making life enjoyable, loss of autonomy, loss of dignity, being a burden on family/caregivers, and loss of control over bodily functions.

These reasons are serious and deserve to be treated with the appropriate multi-disciplinary care, not death. Also, it is worth mentioning that there have been significant advances made in palliative and hospice care so that pain can be managed at the end of life.

Assisted suicide is a deadly public policy that targets the most vulnerable in society. Especially now, as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, it is imperative that physicians work to heal, not cause harm.

Assisted suicide threatens the physician’s identity as a healer. It turns a physician into a participant in premature death. If the role of the physician is transformed in this way, the physician-patient relationship will be undermined. A patient must be able to trust the physician, but, with death on the table, there can be no trust.

The Legislature should be working to increase access to better medical care and treatment options, not death. It is hypocritical for lawmakers to support bills that legalize suicide for some while they preach prevention of suicides for our teens and veterans. I urge the state Legislature to reject assisted suicide.

When I give treatment options, occasionally death or comfort care is a real possibility, but I would never, ever prescribe medications to a patient so that they could voluntarily take their own life. Who would take their prized car to an auto mechanic who also had a wrecking business next door? How about hiring a defense lawyer who dabbled in prosecuting death penalty cases? A pastor who does part-time divorce lawyering? It is a clear conflict of interest.

Assisted suicide is not medicine. It doesn’t take a medical degree to figure out how many Seconal pills you need to commit suicide. If lawmakers want to pass this bill they should have to sign that prescription.

Any lawmaker who truly cares about the well-being of the residents of New Mexico will reject assisted suicide; and the ones who don’t should know that it is really their names that ought to be listed on the individual registered voter’s cause of death.

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