ASSISTED SUICIDE: S.F. Chronicle Weighs In On Both Sides Of Issue
Proponents of physician-assisted suicide are gathering in San Francisco tomorrow to discuss making the practice legal in California. The conference is hosted by San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown (D) and sponsored by the Death With Dignity National Center and the San Francisco Medical Society. Today's San Francisco Chronicle contains a "Perspectives on Assisted Suicide" section, where advocates from both sides of the issue voice their views:
- "Last Wish For a Way Out of Life": Betty Rollin, speaking for supporters of assisted suicide, contends that the "right-to- die movement grew out of experience ... not from intellectual theory, but from need, from fear and from the heart." She argues that the right-to-die debate has done more than just permit suffering people to end their lives, it has allowed "the issue of pain" to receive a "lot more attention." She writes, "Most hospitals have been undermedicating for pain, but suddenly physicians are arguing against assisted death on the grounds that 'we can keep people pain-free.'" She also argues that the right to die is a beneficial liberty even if it is not used. Noting that while few people have taken advantage of Oregon's assisted- suicide law, Rollin says "there is no way to count the number of people who have peace-of-mind just because the law is in place." She concludes, "Knowing that the option of death exists is, in itself, merciful" (11/12).
- "Assisted Suicide Isn't 'Death With Dignity'": Wesley Smith, an opponent of assisted suicide, argues that the contention of right-to-die advocates that "legalized assisted suicide would be only for 'mentally competent' people who are 'terminally ill'" is not true. Citing several examples of groups' loose definitions of who should be eligible for assisted suicide, Smith argues that some of these views could result in "virtual death on demand." Further, he contends that doctors pressured by cost-conscious HMOs could start to see assisted suicide as the least expensive option. Smith also takes issue with right-to-die groups' portrayal of opponents as religious fanatics trying to impose their views on society. While many religious groups do oppose assisted suicide, Smith argues that so do seven national disability rights groups, almost every professional medical association, every nursing association and the National Hospice Association. In addition, Smith says President Clinton and people covering the "entire political and social spectrum, including atheists" oppose assisted suicide. He concludes, "The more people learn about assisted suicide, the more they realize it is bad medicine and even worse public policy" (11/12).