Issues and Concerns Regarding Medical Aid in Dying (Assisted Suicide)

The New Mexico State Legislature is expected to hear proposed legislation entitled “Medical Aid in Dying (MAID)” during the 2019 legislative session that begins in January in Santa Fe, NM.

Medical Aid in Dying, also known as Death with Dignity, Physician Assisted Suicide and End of Life Options, allows a physician to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to a patient with the understanding that the medication is to be used to cause the death of the patient as the result of suicide.  The legislation declares the physician free of any legal consequences as the result of participating in the death.

The rationale for Medical Aid in Dying is that it is a compassionate alternative for those suffering from a terminal illness.  The prescription is intended to bring a life to an end, thus hastening the inevitable death.  The reasoning behind Medical Aid in Dying is the same as for euthanasia:  the desire for a compassionate end of life and the avoidance of suffering.

“Safeguards” are prescribed in the legislation in an attempt to avoid the exploitation of the death.  The patient must initiate the suicide by requesting his or her own death.  The patient must self-administer a lethal dose of prescribed medication.  The physician must concur and prescribe the lethal dose.  A consulting physician must concur.  And a single family member must agree.  The result is irreversible:  the patient dies.

The following are concerns surrounding this legislation.

  1.  Disregard for Human Life
    A disregard for human life inevitably follows state-sanctioned killing, regardless of the safeguards.  The European experiment began with physician-assisted suicide.  The weak and vulnerable are very susceptible and eventually succumb to the growing demand for their deaths.  Today euthanizing infants is in practice there.
  2. Uncertainty Regarding a Diagnosis of Terminal Illness
    A diagnosis of terminal illness is not always accurate.  Estimating the end of life can vary dramatically.  An example of a missed prognosis is Ms. Aja Riggs, diagnosed with a terminal illness in 2011 and the plaintiff in the case for assisted suicide that was overruled by the New Mexico Supreme Court in 2016.  According to all accounts Ms. Riggs is enjoying her prolonged life.

  3. Inherent Corruption of the Patient-Doctor Relationship
    Third, there is a corruption of the patient-doctor relationship.  The physician-patient relationship is a complex one.  The physician’s authority holds exceptional weight in prescribing a treatment regime.  Once a physician recommends suicide, the patient’s healing is necessarily compromised.  The patient’s expectation is that the best decisions are being made on his or her behalf.  That assurance comes into conflict with the suggestion of taking one’s life.
  4. Economic Incentives for Promoting Suicide
    The economic incentives inherent in providing a patient with a premediated death are obvious.  The insurance industry is offering to pay for Medical Aid in Dying in lieu of expensive, life-extending medical treatment.  The preservation of inheritance is another obvious factor.  The wealthy are especially vulnerable to death by those seeking an inheritance.
  5. Familial Relationship Compromised
    Familial relationships are compromised.  The adage that property divides families following the death of parents is axiomatic.  Such factors as single parenthood and geographic distances have diminished familial relationships.  We live in an era in which government has enable the destruction of the American family.  We are a nation of 13.6 million single parents, for example.  Assuming that family members always have the best interest of the patient in mind is fallacious.

  6. Human Dignity and Equality before the Law
    Our nation’s judiciary is based on the idea of human dignity and equality before the law.  The argument for Medical Aid in Dying is that a patient’s dignity, autonomy and self-control are inherent in planning their own death, but the opposite may be true.  A person facing their own demise may not experience dignity and autonomy.  Prejudging a dying person’s state of mind and their ability to make end of life decisions introduces major uncertainty.  You cannot offer equality – much less human dignity – to the deceased.

  7. Wrongful Death Lawsuits
    Wrongful death lawsuits may be filed against those not covered by the law who participate in a Medical Aid in Dying event.  Anyone with standing can disagree with a Medical Aid in Dying case and claim that the death was the result of carelessness or was a dangerous, intentional act of deceit.
  8. Palliative Care and Other Treatment Choices
    Palliative care, pain management and hospice are always viable alternatives to killing the patient, avoiding all of the above.

  9. When Death becomes Commonplace
    When the taking of life becomes commonplace, complacency about taking life follows.  What follows assisted suicide is euthanasia.  In the Netherlands in 1990, deaths from euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide were 1.7% of deaths.  By 2015 the number had increased to 4.5%, a 250% increase.  Normalization and acceptance of death have always resulted in an escalation.

  10. Judeo-Christian Principles
    If we were to add another insight, it would be that the Judeo-Christian underpinnings of our nation point only to respect for and choosing life in each and every case, from natural birth to natural death.  The burden of having enabled a patient’s death should not be laid on a physician or others trained to heal and preserve life.

New Mexico Watchman