October 7, 2016

Medical association takes stance against physician-assisted suicide

By Natalie Hoefer

A positive step forward in the pro-life movement was taken on Sept. 25 when members of the Indiana State Medical Association (IMSA) voted to formally oppose physician-assisted suicide (PAS) in the Hoosier state.

“There was passionate debate, with the vast majority of physicians who testified strongly recommending opposing any attempt to legalize PAS in Indiana,” reads a statement issued by the Catholic Medical Association. “There were many first-time conference attendees who came specifically to testify against PAS.”

Among the many arguments presented in opposition to physician-assisted suicide, the following were cited in the press release:

Medical professionals should focus on providing care and comfort to patients, not on becoming a source of lethal drugs.

Patients in Oregon (where PAS is legal) have received letters from insurance companies refusing to pay for chemotherapy but suggesting PAS.

Everyone agrees that dying in pain is unacceptable; however nearly all pain is now treatable.

Oregon is proof that general suicides rise dramatically once assisted suicide is promoted as a “good.”

Assisted suicide is a recipe for elder and disability abuse because it can put lethal drugs in the hands of abusers.

For 2,500 years, physicians have professed the “Hippocratic Oath,” which explicitly forbids PAS, and continue to hold as the first tenant of medical ethics, “primum non nocere” (first, do no harm).

“I’m very happy with the fact that the [Indiana] State Medical Association came out with a forceful position that PAS is wrong and not appropriate from a medical point of view, as well as a moral point of view,” says Glenn Tebbe who, as executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference, serves as the public policy and legislative spokesperson for the Church in Indiana.

Tebbe says this pronouncement by the ISMA makes the introduction of PAS legislation to the Indiana General Assembly “much less likely.”

Rebecca Niemerg, director of the archdiocesan Office of Pro-Life and Family Life, is “encouraged to learn that the Indiana State Medical Association formalized its stance against physician-assisted suicide.”

She notes that the members of the ISMA who testified against PAS “provided sound reasons for their stance.

“In recognizing the necessity of providing exceptional pain management care and by pointing out that legalizing PAS could lead to elder abuse and to insurance companies paying for lethal drugs but not medical treatments, the physicians upheld the best interests of individuals in Indiana in need of care at the end of life.”

Absent from the list of arguments against PAS were words and phrases such as “dignity,” “respect for life” and “culture of life.” Their omission is intentional and strategic, says Tebbe.

“What has been noted when these questions are put up to public referendum and or other public debate [is that] very often the public at large is more inclined to listen to the medical legal issues as opposed to the moral ones. In this climate, anything that speaks of moral or Church [teaching] or ethics is often poo-pooed as someone trying to impose their will on someone else.

“It’s obvious that Catholic teaching says that [physician-assisted suicide] is killing. Just look at the catechism or other Church documents speaking on this issue. It’s not a compassionate choice, even though that’s what the other side says. Compassion is giving the loving care for that person as they struggle with whatever their condition might be.”

The American Medical Association is currently studying this issue on a national level, since PAS has been legalized in Oregon, Washington, Vermont, California, and by statute and by court decision in Montana. †

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