Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Wesley Smith was right. Assisted suicide is not limited to physical suffering.

This article was written by Wesley Smith and published on his blog on December 7, 2016. 


esterday I righteously accused assisted suicide-committing-and-promoting doctor, Timothy Quill, of being “full of crap” for pretending legalized assisted suicide should be limited to relieving physical suffering. 

That’s how it is sold, to be sure, wrote I, but no law legalizing assisted suicide in the USA actually requires that standard be met before a terminally ill patient can receive a lethal prescription. 

Over at Mother Jones, blogger Kevin Drum took exception to my characterization of Quill’s advocacy. From ”What Counts as ‘Physical Suffering?’:” 
Wesley Smith is an absolute foe of assisted suicide in any form, for any reason, at any time. 
Guilty as charged, although better stated, I am against laws authorizing assisted suicide in any form, for any reason, at any time. 

You see this is a public policy issue, not–by definition–about individual decision making to end one’s life. 

Rather, it is about the state authorizing a joint enterprise to make someone dead. It is about how a loving community responds to suicide ideation, regardless of its cause. 

For reasons presented in two books, as well as hundreds of articles and blog posts–written over the last 23 years–I have presented a plethora of reasons why assisted suicide is bad medicine and even worse public policy, and also demonstrated that wherever it is legalized, preventing physical suffering not required to access death. 

Drum claims Quill is a reasonable voice because he advocated what the Mother Jones scribe believes to be significant limitations on assisted suicide: 
Quill isn’t especially making the case that physical suffering is a major component of assisted suicide laws, he’s using it to argue against broadening the justification for assisted suicide to include “psychological or spiritual suffering.”  
You’d think Smith would appreciate at least that much, but apparently not. 
No I don’t. It is a false flag, and Quill knows it. 

Indeed, as I wrote in my book Forced Exit, Quill came to prominence in 1991 for writing in the New England Journal of Medicine that he had assisted the suicide of a patient he called Diane who had a history of alcoholism and depression, had overcome vaginal cancer, and was then diagnosed with leukemia. 

Diane had a 25% chance of successful treatment–which she refused–was depressed and scared of future suffering–existential, not physical–but was not then in the kind of pain Quill describes in his interview as necessary in legalization schemes. So, though his act was illegal, Quill did not require intense physical suffering before assisting Diane’s suicide. 

And waddya know: After criticizing me and defending Quill’s assertion, Drum ends his piece by tossing the physical suffering requirement over the side: (my emphasis): 
However, on one thing Smith is unquestionably correct: the assisted suicide laws on the books today don’t require a show of physical suffering. 
So the whole conversation is moot anyway.  
Nor do I see what good it would do if they did. It would just require patients to claim they were in a lot of physical pain. There’s no way to prove this one way or the other, so why bother? 
In other words, I am right. People diagnosed with a terminal illness can commit assisted suicide where it is legal in the USA for any reason they want. 

Let’s recap: Quill was selling assisted suicide laws as being limited to physical suffering. Drum admits that physical suffering is not a requirement for assisted suicide where it is legal, and doesn’t believe it should be. 

Hence, as I wrote, Timothy Quill and other proponents peddling the physical suffering meme as the excuse for legalization are so full of crap.

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