Monday, October 19, 2009

Connecticut Court Case: Distinguishing Between "Aid in Dying" and Assisted Suicide.

Kevin B. O'Reilly posts a story at AmericanMedicalNews about the pending court case in Connecticut regarding aid in dying:

Gary Blick, MD, an HIV/AIDS specialist in Norwalk, Conn., and Ronald M. Levine, MD, an internist in Greenwich, Conn., in October filed a legal challenge to the state's assisted-suicide statute, saying the threat of punishment prevents them from prescribing lethal doses of medication

Dr. Blick said that since he started practicing in 1987, he has received numerous requests for lethal prescriptions from terminally ill patients with "agonizing pain" and poor quality of life. "I always tell them I can't do that -- I could be tried for manslaughter."

"For anyone who is terminally ill, who is mentally competent, for whom we know there's no hope, who has lost quality of life and is in chronic pain, we can help them to die with dignity," said Dr. Blick, medical and research director of the HIV/AIDS clinic Circle Medical. "That's what we call aid in dying. This is not assisted suicide."

The distinction between "aid in dying," also called Death with Dignity where legal in Washington and Oregon, and assisted suicide, a prosecutable act, is one that anti-choice advocates are working to prevent. O'Reilly quotes "pro-life" advocate Wesley J. Smith:

"The argument is to replace assisted suicide with a euphemistic advocacy term in the statute," said Wesley J. Smith, senior fellow in human rights and bioethics at the Discovery Institute, a conservative think tank. "It's an amazing and hubristic idea."

By hubristic, we can assume that Smith finds the idea of an individual controlling their last days and weeks in order to escape suffering an affront to either God, the state or the medical profession. His position assumes that an individual is not entitled to oversee and determine the care of their own body, dignity, or quality of life. And considering that most hospitals and hospice facilities already practice Continuous Deep Sedation to alleviate pain until death, without patient consent or the strict regulations determined by the Death with Dignity law, the concept is hardly amazing.

Yet, the nature of the two acts, aiding a mentally competent, terminally ill patient - who is going to soon die - to choose their time and manner of death is not the same as assisting someone physically healthy to end their life.

As we wait for the Montana Supreme Court to deliver a decision on Baxter v Montana and watch the New Hampshire legislature draft a Death with Dignity bill, the case in Connecticut will teach us much about how aid in dying translates under that state's constitution.

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