A Word on Physician Assisted Suicide from a Pain Consultant MD.
There have been many things written over the last few days regarding the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision regarding euthanasia and physician assisted suicide. As a physician who works in a tertiary care chronic pain clinic, I would like to add another voice in the discussion.
To remind readers, the Supreme Court of Canada decision legalizes euthanasia for”
“a competent adult person who (1) clearly consents to the termination of life and (2) has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.”
Chronic pain patients are, as a rule, competent adults who have a grievous and irremediable medical condition that cause many to experience enduring suffering that is often described as intolerable to the patient. There are few days in my practice that a patient does not express to me their desire to die than to go on living with chronic pain.
My fear, with the Supreme Court of Canada decision, is that these individuals will now have the right to ask me for a physician assisted suicide. Furthermore, if I disagree, recent policies from our physician regulatory bodies, may compel me to refer my chronic pain patients to someone who would be willing to aid them in an assisted suicide.
To be clear, chronic pain disorders have no known cure and do cause suffering for many patients. However, although the road to hope for these patients can be long and difficult, many patients with chronic pain can go on to lead rich and fulfilling lives.
At no point in my medical training was I trained to make decisions regarding who was worthy to live and who should be allowed to die because of their illness. In fact, the focus of my training was to treat disease and provide compassion and hope to those who suffer.
As the statement from the Supreme Court of Canada goes, I see no reason to believe we will not have a slippery slope wherein patients with challenging conditions such as chronic pain, seek to end their lives with the support of a physician. This can never be allowed to happen.
Although I appreciate the emotions in this debate, especially when dealing with terminal illness, I can’t help but have serious concerns that physician assisted suicide will demean my profession as well as lead to many patients to giving up in the face of suffering.
As I have heard many people say in this debate, let’s provide better care and compassion for those living with chronic illness rather then ending their lives.
Let us work ever more diligently to finds ways to better manage chronic illness and to provide hope to those who do not see hope.
It is our duty and our responsibility as physicians to heal and not to harm. We cannot forget this sacred trust that society has given us.
Robert Hauptman MD