Should Arizona legitimize assisted suicide?
That is the stark question posed by House Bill 2454, currently under consideration in the Legislature.
Modeled after Oregon’s famous “death with dignity” law, it would allow adults suffering from terminal conditions to ask doctors to prescribe drugs “that will terminate the life of a qualified patient in a painless, humane and dignified manner.”
The bill would not exactly pave the way for Kevorkian-like side shows. It does not authorize lethal injections, “mercy killing or active euthanasia.” It is full of safeguards and double-checks to ensure patients are not requesting lethal drugs under duress, that they are of sound mind and their requests are duly witnessed by disinterested parties. It provides for waiting periods and allows patients to change their minds. It appears to be carefully and thoughtfully drawn.
But still. . . .
Do we want to codify a procedure that provides, in effect, for the deliberate termination of human life?
The motives are noble, of course. The end result of some diseases is truly ghastly, producing elongated suffering of the sort we would not allow animals to endure. Such is the pain of some diseases that relief lies only in a coma, the next thing to death itself.
Most religions oppose deliberate steps to shorten life, even under such extreme conditions. Most religions teach that life belongs to the Creator, who has not granted to mankind the prerogative of deciding when life should end. Those religious convictions underlie many objections to measures such as ones now pending in the Legislature.
But religious viewpoints should not, and need not, form the basis for deciding on such an issue of public policy. Sufficient secular concerns exist with which to frame the debate.
One troubling feature of HB2454 is that it allows the administration of life-ending drugs even if, under normal circumstances, death would not occur for another six months. With pain management and the right kind of care, a person can do a lot of living in six months. While the stipulation of a waiting period might lead some patients to change their minds, it remains possible some people will act too soon, in a state of hasty panic, with no reversal of their decision possible.
It seems to us the better way is to give painkillers as needed, in sufficient doses even if a “sufficient dose,” as the suffering becomes severe, means rendering the patient unconscious with the side effect of a somewhat quicker death.
Those private medical decisions should remain outside the purview of the state.
We are not alone in harboring strong reservations about this proposal. The Arizona Hospice and Palliative Care Organization has studied the issue closely and is deeply concerned. A position paper released by the organization makes powerful points. Here are a few:
- Barriers to killing patients or assisting them to kill themselves not only protect society in general and patients in particular but also protect physicians and surrogate decision-makers from their own weaknesses — from subtly self-centered decisions that may well haunt them for the rest of their lives.”
-Physician-assisted suicide obliterates the opportunity to transcend suffering and find meaning . . . in the existence of one’s relationship with self and loved ones.”
BULLETs=8•oProfessionals in the field are concerned that the suicide option will impede research into palliative care, which has made great strides in recent years to ease the pain of dying patients.
In truth, there are options other than state-endorsed, physician-assisted suicide. The proposal is unncessary and dangerous.
Yes, it sounds good on the surface. It sounds so reasonable, so compassionate, so kind. But it may contain the seeds of the ultimate cruelty, the hasty and unjust early termination of human life.
And so as regards our opening question, we hope Arizona’s answer will be a resounding NO.