Palliative Care Doctors Split on Legalizing Physician-Assisted Suicide
Palliative care physicians have had mixed reactions to the California Medical Association's decision to drop its opposition to physician-assisted suicide, KPCC's "KPCC News" reports (O'Neill, "KPCC News," KPCC, 5/29).
Last month, CMA dropped its opposition to the life-ending practice, citing a shift in doctor and patient attitudes about end-of-life and assisted suicide options. The move makes CMA the first state medical association to take such a stance.
SB 128 would require that:
- Medication is self-administered;
- The patient is mentally competent; and
- Two physicians confirm the prognosis that the patient has six months or less to live (California Healthline, 5/29).
Ted Mazer, speaker of CMA's House of Delegates, said the group's new position on physician-assisted suicide will enable it to work with the bill's authors to ensure the measure includes adequate protections for providers ("KPCC News," KPCC, 5/29).
The measure now is headed for a full state Senate vote (California Healthline, 5/29).
Palliative Care Providers Split Over CMA's Decision
Some palliative care providers agreed with CMA's changed stance.
Lynette Cederquist, a San Diego-area palliative care specialist, noted that there is little difference between physician-assisted suicide under SB 128 and palliative sedation -- a legal practice in which a doctor sedates the patient into unconsciousness until the patient dies, which sometimes takes up to a week.
However, Vincent Nguyen, a palliative care doctor in Newport Beach, said there is no justification for legalizing physician-assisted suicide in the state. He said patients who have asked him for assistance in ending their life "don't want to die. They just need to be listened to."
Meanwhile, Ira Byock, a physician who opposes CMA's new stance, said the real issue that should be addressed is a lack of training among physicians on end-of-life care. Byock said, "State boards of medical examiners continue to give licenses to physicians without testing to ensure that these physicians have mastered the basic knowledge and skills in communication, decision-making and pain assessment and management required to care well for seriously ill people" ("KPCC News," KPCC, 5/29).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.