The New England Journal of Medicine has long advocated assisted suicide in its pages. It now has a piece supposedly rebutting opponents of legalizing assisted suicide in Oregon. For example, it says that assisted suicide was not carried out on people with mental illnesses. How we would know, since death doctors referred only a couple of suicidal patients for a mental health “consultation” in the last several years, the article doesn’t say. Moreover, the state statistics are a joke, since they are mostly dependent on physician self reporting. For example, Kate Cheney’s dubiously “chosen” assisted suicide was reported by the Oregonian, not in the state statistical analysis.
I grow weary of doing a point-by-point rebuttal every time one of these pro assisted suicide articles comes out — and they are becoming ubiquitous — but this sly assertion really got my dander up. From “Redefining Physicans’ Role in Assisted Dying:” (Note, when the Assisted Dying term is used, the writer is almost always a supporter of legalizing assisted suicide, just as using the properly descriptive term, instead of euphemism — as I do — is usually an opponent.):
The availability of assisted suicide in Oregon seems to have galvanized efforts to ensure that it is truly a last resort, and the same should hold true regardless of who writes the prescription. Usual care for terminally ill patients should include a discussion of life-preserving and palliative options so that all patients receive care consistent with their own vision of a good death.
Last resort my ear wax! There is no requirement under the law — or statistical data demonstrating — for example, that treatments have been tried to alleviate pain or existential suffering before the lethal prescriptions are written. There is no requirement for treatment of depression in the law, much less even its diagnosis, since only a “consultation” is required — and then only if a death doctor believes the patient has distorted thought processes. And since most are ideologically predisposed, they won’t so think. Indeed, patients who want to kill themselves only need be “capable,” which is able to communicate desires.
In other words, there is no basis for claiming that assisted suicide in Oregon is practiced only as a “last resort,” nor given the ideological presuppositions of many death doctors, that it will ever be. Note the key phrase in that regard: “consistent with their own vision of a good death,” not “when nothing else can be done to alleviate suffering.”
The editorial also says that palliative spending has grown in Oregon since passage. of assisted suicide. So too in other states that explicitly outlaw assisted suicide. Moreover, when a hospice patient is assisted in suicide without receiving suicide prevention services — which are as core to the hospice philosophy as pain control — by definition, that patient has been denied proper medical care.
But never mind. We have different agendas today. The NEJM may be a great medical journal, but it is taking us down the cultural drain.