Saturday, January 12, 2008

Ethical Principles Protect Patients--Not Personal Opinions

The Christian Medical Association ( voiced strong opposition to an assisted suicide bill introduced today in the Washington legislature, saying the measure puts patients at risk by supplanting longstanding, recognized ethical principles with personal opinion.

"This bill to legalize assisted suicide attempts to force the opinions of a small band of suicide advocates on society and the medical community, and to force the government into the position of sanctioning suicide," observed CMA CEO Dr. David Stevens.

"Laws teach. Think about the message this measure would send to vulnerable and depressed individuals contemplating suicide. How are we going to publicly sanction suicide and then turn around and try to stem the tide of teen suicides?

"The minority lobbying for assisted suicide may personally believe that the value of a life is measured by physical health. Yet millennia of longstanding ethical principles recognize that the value of human life extends far beyond our bodies and beyond our ability to perceive value. Longstanding recognized ethics from Hippocrates to the bible have provided vital safeguards for patients while motivating physicians to practice true compassion by providing comfort and commitment to the patient. "It's easy for suicide lobbyists to attract a measure of public sympathy for their views by waving the flag of individual autonomy. But when the debate moves beyond sound bites to actual evidence, the public recognizes that patients' autonomy and interests are protected only when doctors remain healers and never killers.

"The Netherlands decided to remove longstanding ethical safeguards for patients, and legislators legalized assisted suicide and euthanasia. Published medical studies reveal that Dutch doctors administer lethal injections to roughly a thousand patients a year who never consent to their deaths. That's autonomy for doctors--not for patients.

"Once assisted suicide infiltrates medicine, patient protections fall and the power of doctors rises. Euthanasia is next--beginning with patients who can't swallow lethal drugs. "Assisted suicide also removes patient protections by opening a door for self-interested parties to pressure vulnerable patients to die. Imagine the incentives for cost-conscious HMO's, government insurers, greedy heirs and tired caregivers. A patient's apparently voluntary decision may actually be coerced--yet nearly impossible to detect or prosecute.

"The answer to patients suffering at the end of life is not to kill them, but to provide aggressive and appropriate relief from pain, compassionate counsel and unconditional love."

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