PALLIATIVE CARE: Threatened By Anti-Assisted-Suicide Bill
Legislation aimed at prohibiting physician-assisted suicide could hinder doctors' ability to adequately relieve their dying patients' pain, several groups said yesterday. The American College of Physicians, the American Medical Association and the American Geriatrics Society "all spoke out" against the Lethal Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 1998, sponsored by Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) and Sen. Don Nickles (R-OK). "Pain is severely undertreated. The proposed legislation serves to compound this problem by creating an environment in which health care professionals are reluctant to prescribe adequate treatments, fearing scrutinization and misunderstood intent," American Society of Pain Management Nurses President Pamela Bennet said at a news conference yesterday. American Society for Action on Pain President Skip Baker said that "even without the law, doctors get hassled about prescribing pain medicine." Reuters/Nando Times notes that the bill "does distinguish between giving a drug to control pain, even though it might hasten death, and giving a drug specifically to cause a death," but that it would still authorize the Drug Enforcement Administration "to revoke the license of any doctor who intentionally prescribes drugs to help suicide" (8/20).
Let Them Have Pain Relief
In an op-ed appearing in today's Washington Post, Ronald Carson, director of the University of Texas' Institute for the Medical Humanities, says the "ham-fisted proposal before Congress would stymie ... hard-won progress" that the health care system has made in the area of palliative care. He writes: "The art and science of palliative care -- the comprehensive management of the physical, psychological, social, spiritual and existential needs of patients -- finally are being introduced into medical and nursing school curricula and continuing education programs." But the message the Hyde-Nickles legislation sends "is that pain control is dangerous, that expecting to be comfortable near the end is unrealistic and maybe even immoral -- that it's better for the dying to tough it out." He says, "If the politicians who crafted this legislation truly want to prevent physician-assisted suicide, they're taking the wrong approach" because "[f]ear of unrelieved pain ranks among the main reasons people give for requesting help ending their lives." Doctors should be able to provide comfort for their patients, Carson concludes, while the patients and their families -- the people "who have the biggest stake in their outcome" -- should be the ones making the decisions (8/21).
The Detroit News reports that Cardinal Adam Maida is urging Roman Catholics in the Metro Detroit area "to go to the polls in November and defeat a proposal to legalize physician-assisted suicide." Announcing his "Teach, Preach and Vote" campaign, the cardinal said the assisted-suicide initiative "runs directly contrary to our Church's teaching on the dignity of human life from the first moment of conception unto our last natural breath." The Detroit News reports that Maida "detailed" his "get-out-the-vote plan" yesterday "in a letter to more than 800 priests, including plans for video messages and missives in English, Spanish and Polish" (Hurt, 8/21).