Assisted Suicide Does Not Really Feel Good

By Karen Brauer
Featured Rightgrrl December 1997
December 31, 1998

The decision to accord people the so called "right" of assisted suicide is born of the emotional need to feel good. It is a way to seek control over our inevitable mortality. Some well thinking people wish to alleviate suffering, but fail to take into account the human capacity for hubris. However decisions based purely upon emotion usually lead to regrets. It is my privilege to share the present and future consequences of this feel-good business of assisted suicide with you.

First of all, human suffering drives medical research. Our willingness to spend money to alleviate pain pays for it. When end of life suffering can be terminated by killing a patient, research and development of palliative care will come to a grinding halt, since it will no longer be necessary or cost effective.

I'm sure our HMO's will make use of assisted suicide as an efficient method of cost containment. Already in Oregon, health insurance companies are covering assisted suicide. In fact one such company has a plan that places a mere 1,000 dollar cap on end of life care! That won't pay for too many days of hospice care. OMAP, (Oregon's version of Medicaid) has been publicly embarrassed for limiting access to an important type of pain medication (Oxycontin) for certain classes of patients with intractable pain. However, they do cover assisted suicide. Recent media attention (courtesy of Physicians for Compassionate Care) has caused them to rethink how they manage access to this medication. The cost of end of life care has also instilled in people the idea that they have a duty to die.

At this time, the medical professions are not sufficiently attentive to pain management, although significant advances are being made. The availability of assisted suicide will lessen the need for these advances. After all, death is an extremely efficient and cost effective escape from pain, be it physical or mental. Let us not forget that treating the anguish caused by mental illness is a huge and costly burden to society. Assisted suicide could be encouraged in these cases to provide permanent pain relief for patients, and convenience for their families. (A large proportion of people with mental illness remain mentally competent, not at all delusional, and fully capable of making a reasoned request for assisted suicide.) It is na´ve to think that a person's decision to commit suicide is made in a vacuum. Innumerable outside influences come to bear on it, and in turn, each suicide has permanent, social repercussions.

Lastly, this newly asserted, so called "right" of people to deal assisted death to themselves presupposes that medical professionals be obligated to participate. The same forces that now coerce medical institutions and practitioners to participate in abortion are coming to bear in the case of assisted suicide.

Although use of a gun can assure an extremely quick and efficient death for a person, it leaves others with an unsightly mess to clean up. This makes it appear more violent than the use of drugs. Assisted suicide will make the death appear cleaner and nicer to the family of a patient. That is its major purpose, in reality. Physicians, pharmacists, and nurses will be called by society to leave their moral convictions and the Hippocratic Oath (which forbids both abortion and assisted suicide) behind, and make death look nice for the public. In turn, patients will never again be able to completely trust that medical professionals seek to heal, rather than kill them. Those of us medical professionals who refuse to provide death, instead of healing or proper palliative care, will have to seek new vocations.

Karen L. Brauer M.S. R.Ph.

This article copyright © 1998 by Karen L. Brauer and may not be reproduced in any form without the express written consent of its author. All rights reserved.