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Grace Ross: What Physician Assisted Suicide Means to You

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Grace Ross, GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTER™

I don’t know about you, but the term “Physician-Assisted” conjures in my mind the presence of a doctor overseeing each step in a process. The image of a doctor holding a patient’s hand at bedside. The continuity of care that in the final step either completes the treatment, fulfills the diagnosis, or, perhaps, abandons the treatment for some reason, but wouldn’t leave lethal materials around to be stored or disposed of with no oversight. People will always say it’s people who kill people and not guns that kill people, and yet we know from experience that if we want to track the use of a gun that has been used to kill people, that we need to track it from cradle to grave.

What am I talking about? There’s a misnomer on the ballot for November 6th called “Physician-assisted suicide.” My image that I just played out of physician assistance doesn’t even begin to apply to the law that has been proposed.  There’s so much wriggle-room in this law that you could drive a truck through it.

Here’s the problem. This law does not require an ongoing relationship with a physician – a relationship where the physician would know of a history, say, of depression.. You could shop around, find a physician who will give you the drugs, get a prescription for the drugs without even being assessed by a psychiatrist if the doctor decides you don’t need one, and gives you enough of a narcotic to kill yourself, guaranteed, if you take it in one dose.

But about 35% of folks who have been given these kinds of drugs in other states (where we can track them) don’t even use the drugs. So if 35% of the drugs that are given aren’t even being used, where are they ending up?

These are heavy-duty narcotics, like Secenol; in some places, they give a hundred such pills. You could use them to get high. You could use them to make some money on the side.

My least favorite scenario, since no one makes sure that the drugs are tracked or disposed of properly, is that an adult, a parent, has a terrible accident. In their sense of despair and hopelessness, knowing that they won’t have the money, that their family won’t have the money to care for them through to the possible soon ugly death they might experience, gets turned down  by their physician for these drugs. They then go shopping and finds the physician that will give them to them, without checking or assessing.

As luck would have it, the love and support of their family gets them through that crisis, and the pills sit in a bottle in the medicine cabinet in the master bedroom. Couple of years later, an ingenious teenager, wandering through the cabinets experimenting with drugs, locates these drugs. Worst case scenario they kill themselves with them without realizing how dangerous they are.  Close to as equally bad, they get addicted to them. Or they take them to a party, where they mix drugs, and a whole bunch of kids take them. Worse than that, they realize what they have in their hands is a quick turnaround, cash cow. They go find themselves somebody willing to buy them and make a bunch of drug connections that we wouldn’t want any of our children to be connected to.

Remember 35% on average go unused and their is no tracking to see what happens to them – this is not a blue moon scenario.

The image in my mind of a miserable, soon-to-die person for whom the lifting of the social stigma of wanting to commit suicide is something that perhaps we can support and applaud. This law does not do that.

Even were we get to avoid the moral questions about whether it’s appropriate to ever take your life, whether the wild inaccuracy of projected prognoses for people could become more predictable, reliable, and scientific aside, this law will not even accomplish what its name suggests.

This is not assistance. This is not the presence of a physician during treatment; it’s not even a guarantee that the physician will really know the patient before they get their prescription. There’s no final destination for a prescription that goes unused. No accountability.

For all of the arguments about legalizing various drugs, and all of the statistics showing that it’s better to regulate most drugs and control them and even make taxes off the legal purchasing of drugs, this legislation, this question would actually take us backwards: it makes drugs that are presently required to be legally controlled, become available in unknown places, in unknown amounts, for those without information, and potentially unsuspecting victims.

Let’s have the public debate.

Let’s inform our legislators.

Let’s really have a fight over what makes sense morally, politically, and ethically as a society.

But let’s not pass this piece of legislation.

It is not about what the term “physician-assisted suicide” conjures for any of us.  We think of the most compassionate, best-case scenario. This legislation will allow for a lot, lot more than that.


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