Doctors sue over having to offer suicide as an option in New Mexico
When did the physician’s oath to “do no harm” go so terribly wrong?
It started as a movement to allow terminally ill people to end their suffering by choosing to commit suicide with doctors’ help. But as “death with dignity” laws sweep across the United States and the globe, some people feel as if they have no dignity and no choice except to submit to intense pressure and end their own lives.
Now, a group of medical professionals is pushing back against the culture of death. Last week, the docs sued the state of New Mexico – which last year passed the nation’s most forceful doctor-assisted suicide law – to prevent them from being required to steer a sick patient to an early demise.
“The government can’t force health-care professionals to violate their medical ethics or their religious convictions,” Mark Lippelmann, a lawyer with the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom group told me. “It’s unconstitutional and it’s wrong,”
Today, 10 states and the District of Columbia have legalized physician-assisted suicide. In the U.S., the laws generally require terminally ill adults of sound mind to take lethal drugs prescribed by doctors. New York hasn’t enacted a suicide statute – yet. But pro-death activists are pushing for it. In parts of Europe, conditions such as depression qualify people to receive fatal medicine, a frightening prospect.
Healers who object to hastening death on religious or moral grounds usually can opt out of the ghoulish practice. But New Mexico law essentially pushes death. The Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act requires physicians in the state who object to participating in suicide to inform patients that it is available.
Also, those who refuse to do so must refer patients to doctors and organizations that will.
Meanwhile, healers who refuse to get with the program because of their religious beliefs or professional ethics may face hefty fines and risk losing their medical licenses.
This is why Dr. Mark Lacy and Christian Medical & Dental Associations are challenging the death-obsessed government in federal district court.
“The government is using this law to coerce participation in assisted suicide, to compel speech, and to promulgate a practice which departs from thousands of years of enduring medical ethics,” Dr. Lacy an infectious disease specialist, stated.
“Suffering patients need care and sound medical treatment, and they must trust their physicians to care and not kill,” he added. “Doctors must be free to act with moral integrity, according to their conscience and personal convictions, not as mere instruments executing state mandates.”
I support a patient’s right to chose suicide – provided it’s really his or her choice. Then I spoke with Stephanie Packer. The California mom-of-four was diagnosed with terminal scleroderma, but found that dying was far easier than clinging to life.
She told me her health insurer denied her request for life-prolonging chemotherapy. Instead, the company offered her suicide drugs – with a copayment of $1.20.
“My jaw dropped,” she told me.
Only after Packer threatened to go to the media with her story did the insurance company cover the chemo. Now she has far outlived her death sentence.
No one should be pressured into dying before their time. I hope the New Mexico doctors prevail in their lawsuit. It would be a victory for all of us.
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or are experiencing a mental health crisis and live in New York City, you can call 1-888-NYC-WELL for free and confidential crisis counseling. If you live outside the five boroughs, you can dial the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention hotline at 988 or go to SuicidePreventionLifeline.org.