Monday, January 26, 2015

Death on Demand: A Physician's role in Assisted Suicide

Death on Demand: a physician’s role in assisted suicide


Maryland Board of Physicians recent revocation of a physician’s license for assisting in the suicides of his patients was the correct decision. Physicians are neither trained nor licensed to take life. Death on demand is not the physician’s role in society. Euthanasia has been a controversial subject for decades. Government officials have not had the backbone to generate a regulatory structure to terminate the lives of those suffering extreme illnesses. I watched my own mother die a horrible death from a cancer that literally engulfed her body from inside out in the 1970s. No one brought up the subject of euthanizing her because we all knew it was morally and professionally wrong. Yet the debate on pulling the plug continues from that time forward without a resolution in sight. Self-appointed Kevorkians empower themselves, utilizing creative methodologies, to bring a life to a finite point.  Dr. Lawrence Egbert’s empathetic actions, may have been well intentioned, though inconsistent with his licensed authority and his moral obligation to his patients. Many across the gamut of the health professions have the knowledge to take life but few have acted in any perverse manner in this direction. Regulating authorities are not without compassion for those who have a brief period left on Earth. In Maryland and across the nation euthanasia has been debated to the nth degree moving no closer to a solution than our considerations 40 years ago.


The question who lives and who dies received a slight lift from the legislative effort called the Affordable Care Act. Stories emanating from various sources indicate those facing catastrophic illnesses starting in their mid-seventies will not have access to cutting edge therapies. Why? Government entities are refusing to pay for them. A patient with metastatic cancer was recently told by a major university hospital in the region that chemotherapy costs would not be reimbursed because of his age. Death panels no, but cost panels yes. Is the government in a sense directing physicians to withhold therapies making them responsible for the outcomes, it seems so. Taken to a higher degree are physicians being forced to be stewards of death without their consent? Again, it seems so. Society must determine the appropriate circumstances in which one can bring his or her life to an end in the face of a terminal illness. Physicians must not take it upon themselves or be forced to decide when a life should terminate. I realize many have heard these words before. Unfortunately they have not penetrated the minds of some. The debate on a physician’s role in end of life planning should take place in an open forum for all to hear. Under no circumstances should a physician act in the shadows, playing the part of “Death,” no matter how empathetic he or she is with patients in his or her care.


Mark Davis MD, President of Davis Writing Services

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