Since Oregon enacted their Death with Dignity Act in 1997, five additional states and Washington D.C. have subsequently legalized the practice of physician-assisted suicide. Proponents continue to promote laws permitting physician-assisted suicide across the nation, and many states are actively considering adopting these unethical measures. Shamefully, some medical organizations have actively aided and abetted these efforts through euphemistic rhetoric and distorted ethical arguments. The American Nurses Association (ANA) has become the most recent organization to capitulate to the supporters of physician-assisted suicide.
Although not yet official, the ANA has released a draft of their position statement outlining their generally favorable stance toward physician-assisted suicide. The statement unsurprisingly uses a euphemism, “Aid in Dying,” to frame their position. Unfortunately, the statement is riddled with many common mischaracterizations and fails to adequately address the ethical concerns surrounding legal physician-assisted suicide.
Ironically, ANA rejects euthanasia in the very same position statement. The difference between euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide is not an ethical one, but merely a logistical one. In euthanasia, the physician actively administers the lethal medication to the patient, thereby directly causing the death of the patient. In physician-assisted suicide, the physician prescribes the lethal medication to the patient for him to ingest at some later time. Both methods intend to cause the death of the patient, violating the patient’s inherent dignity and Right to Life. If euthanasia is illicit and therefore inconsistent with the nursing profession, then physician-assisted suicide must be, too.
The position statement rightly recognizes the importance of protecting the nurse’s conscience in regards to physician-assisted suicide. However, the draft statement makes several comments that contradict that recognition, stating that nurses who object should identify nurses willing to participate in the unethical procedure. This framework compels nurses to cooperate in physician-assisted suicide, which is a grave violation of their conscience rights.
Furthermore, although the statement identifies that many people choose assisted suicide out of fear of incurable pain and suffering, the ANA fails to adequately analyze this argument. The ANA knows well that the solution to this concern of patients is more effective pain management, training in palliative services, and medical staff’s dedication to accompany patients through their time of difficulty. Suffering must be addressed with true compassion, and, when necessary, nurses should help patients endure and comfort them rather than ending their life to avoid future pain.
Although there is not a current movement in Texas to legalize physician-assisted suicide, the rights of vulnerable patients are under attack by an unprecedented, unethical, and unconstitutional Texas statute. Section 166.046 of the Texas Health and Safety Code permits physicians and hospitals to withhold or withdraw basic life-sustaining treatment, from a patient against the will of the patient, his family, or his surrogate. The patient is only given 10 days to find another facility to which to transfer before the hospital can legally forcibly remove treatment. Like physician-assisted suicide, this process violates numerous principles of medical ethics, including the Right to Life. Senate Bill 2089 by Senator Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) and House Bill 3158 by Representative Richard Raymond (D-Laredo) will reform this process so that physicians will work with the patient and patient’s surrogate to find a suitable transfer facility and will no longer be permitted to withdraw basic life-sustaining treatment against the patient’s consent.
Medical organizations, no matter how prestigious or historic, are susceptible to cultural pressure and systematic degradation of their sound medical ethics. Both ANA and the state of Texas have bought into the deadly lie that some lives are not worthy of defending and that imposing death can in any way be considered compassionate, ethical medicine. Texas lawmakers must stop the anti-Life 10-day countdown, and Pro-Lifers across the county must combat the arguments for physician-assisted suicide, regardless of who promotes them.