Two-thirds of Americans surveyed, including four out of 10 evangelicals, believe physician-assisted suicide is morally acceptable, according to a new poll, Christianity Today reports.
“If they are facing a slow, painful death, Americans want options. Many believe that asking for help in dying is a moral option. They don’t believe that suffering until they die of natural causes is the only way out,” said Scott McConnell, Executive Director of LifeWay Research, which conducted the poll.
Among faith groups, whether Catholics and evangelical Protestants who are traditionally pro-life or no specific denomination identified, more than 50 percent in all demographics support physician-assisted suicide, the LifeWay poll found.
Furthermore, 69 percent of Americans would like to see restrictions on doctors participating in assisted suicide removed, according to the poll.
The movie “On Our Own Terms” outlines some reasons patients consider physician-assisted suicide. Many fears revolve around hopelessness, depression, human suffering, concerns about being a financial or emotional drain to loved ones and inaccessibility to healthcare in rural America.
Euphemistically called aid-in-dying by proponents, doctor-prescribed suicide involves a doctor prescribing a lethal dose of drugs to a patient with the intent to kill themselves. In the U.S., laws currently require that the person be an adult and have a diagnosis of six months or fewer to live.
However, the Disabilities Rights Education and Defense Fund reports doctors sometimes over-diagnose “six months to live.” A patient may consider suicide to avoid burdening their family emotionally or financially in what seems to be inevitable death – and the doctor may be wrong.
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Physician assisted suicide, now legal in five states and under consideration in the District of Columbia, runs contrary to traditional perceptions of health care. Under normal circumstances, when someone is sick, they often visit the doctor, perhaps pick up a prescription, and generally heal over the course of time. Medical treatment is available for many conditions, even those that were once death sentences. In fact, many chronic diseases are a result of advancements in medicine, making many once-fatal diseases livable. In each of these cases, traditional health care perceptions are mirrored in the compassionate treatment of disease by physicians with the ultimate objective of continuing life.
Yet this paradigm of medical care is eroding, not only in the eyes of mainstream and evangelical America, but by the medical institution and health care-related groups. One Oregon couple facing cancer was informed by their insurance company that chemotherapy would not be covered, but physician assisted suicide would be, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund reports.
The lethal assisted suicide drugs are being administered to patients with depression and mental illnesses – people who may not be able to give true informed consent because of the complexities of their illness, according to the group. In many cases, these patients may not fully understand the decision they are making, or they may be coersced into making it.
Execution of the law in Oregon, which was the first state to legalize doctor-prescribed suicide, has been murky as well. Though medical professionals are required to maintain detailed medical records, the same standards do not extend to cases of doctor-prescribed suicide. According to the Oregon Health Authority on doctor-prescribed suicide: “The identity of participating physicians is coded, but the identity of individual patients is not recorded in any manner. Approximately one year from the publication of the Annual Report, all source documentation is destroyed.”
According to the Psychiatric Times, reports out of the Netherlands, which also allows assisted suicide, indicate that doctors freely suggest euthanasia to patients as an option. In addition, there are unreported cases of assisted suicide, and documented records of physicians helping patients end their lives without the patients’ actual consent, according to the report. More horrifyingly, up to 25 percent of physicians acknowledge involvement in the procedure without the patient’s “explicit” consent, and up to 33 percent could “conceive” of doing so, the report continued.
Many of these patients would consider it assault and battery to undergo a procedure against their wills, but the line between medical assistance and murder is plain. The purpose of the medical institution under the Hippocratic Oath is ultimately to promote life and cure disease, not hasten or worse yet, be an accomplice to death.