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Physician-assisted suicide is too risky

Amidst a surprise presidential election, our neighbors to the north have approved physician-assisted suicide, by a margin of 2-to-1. While I applaud the intention of Coloradans to relieve suffering, let’s examine what they’ve actually done.

Physician-assisted suicide allows terminally ill patents to ask a doctor to prescribe them a lethal dose of sleeping pills. The danger of physician-assisted suicide lies in the financial benefits enjoyed by those involved in somebody’s death.

For example, Stephanie Packer, a terminally ill Californian and mother of four, recently pursued chemotherapy treatment from her insurer at the request of her doctor. She was denied. Instead the insurer offered a $1.20 co-pay for a handful of life-ending pills. If physician-assisted suicide comes to New Mexico, let’s expect our hospitals and insurers to follow suit.

By providing cheap and early deaths, insurance companies can save millions of dollars each year. The elderly, the poor, and minorities are also prone to abuse, especially if younger family members view them as a financial burden instead of an honored elder. The dying person is then guilted into their duty to die.

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Let’s remember, in June of this year, the New Mexico Supreme Court upheld the state’s assisted suicide law, rendering physician-assisted suicide illegal. However, physician-assisted suicide will soon be in our backyards again, according to Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Las Cruces, who aims to introduce a bill in January.

But there are safeguards! Let’s take a look at a few of them.

First of all, family notification isn’t required. You have to be expected to die within six months by two doctors. As a physician, I know that predicting the timing of somebody’s death is difficult and often inaccurate. Patients often outlive those estimates.

There aren’t adequate safeguards for the disabled. A 2008 study published in the British Journal of medicine concluded that Oregon’s physician-assisted suicide law “may not adequately protect all mentally ill patients.”

Furthermore, the issue of effect on minorities has not been addressed. A 2013 Pew survey found 65 percent of Latinos and African Americans opposed to physician-assisted suicide, while only 42 percent of whites were. Minorities in Washington, D.C., continue to fight a losing battle over physician-assisted suicide.

Finally there’s the “autonomy safeguard.” A physician-assisted suicide patient has to be deemed capable of autonomously deciding for their early death. However, the Oregon Public Health Division reports that 92 percent of their physician-assisted suicide patients list “loss of autonomy” as their primary reason for desiring an early death.

Herein lies the nail in the coffin argument to subvert the physician-assisted suicide culture. If so many dying patients have lost their autonomy, how can they autonomously decide for suicide?

The answer is simple: Nobody is an island. We rely on our family, friends, and community to partner with us during all of life’s journey. It’s impossible to legislate adequate safeguards to prevent the abuse and coercion that physician-assisted suicide affords.

Physician-assisted suicide should never be permitted in New Mexico because there are too many financial benefits to people involved. It also opens the door for the abuse of minorities, the elderly, the poor and the disabled.

Let us not create a society where the weak have a duty to die. Compassionate care should be provided to suffering patients with the utmost fervor.

Doctors can deliver palliative care to dying patients with dignity, avoiding the tragedy of suicide.

New Mexico has a long tradition of cherishing the marginalized. Please protect them by voicing your opinion against physician-assisted suicide.

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