Slippery Slope of Assisted Suicide
Montanans have a libertarian leaning towards a live-and-let-live philosophy, but what about live-and-let-die?
Physician-assisted suicide continues to be the subject of
legislation in Helena, and so far lawmakers have justifiably advanced
legislation that would ban the practice and make it clear that “consent
of the victim” is not a valid defense for a physician who assists a
person with suicide.
One’s initial reaction might be to wonder why the
Legislature is putting itself in a position of interfering with the
autonomy of a person to choose their own demise with medical assistance.
Advocates of physician-assisted suicide, after all, can and do bring
heart-wrenching testimonials about people with horrible diseases simply
wanting help in ending their lives.
But there are also plenty of reasons why more than
100 legislative proposals nationwide to allow physician-assisted suicide
have been rejected, and why 112 Montana doctors support the bill that
would ban it. Many of those reasons come from the experience of Oregon
and Washington, states that passed ballot initiatives to allow
In those states, suicides usually aren’t actually
“assisted” by physicians; doctors instead provide lethal prescriptions
at the request of individuals who are mostly left on their own.
There is the story of an Oregon woman who had cancer
and chose suicide 12 years ago, only to be talked out of it by her
doctor. Now she is alive and well because she pursued treatment instead,
and thankful that she did.
Let’s face it — serious illness is also often
accompanied by depression. That means people may not be “in their right
mind” when they choose suicide. The pain of chemotherapy or other
treatments may make death seem like the preferred alternative, but would
those people really give up years of quality life experience with
children and grandchildren if they were given hope instead of a deadly
There is also an abundance of stories about the
dangerous influence of money when assisted suicide is an option. The
“right to die” can become a “duty to die” when the cost of care comes
into play, particularly at a time when health-care costs are soaring.
And believe it or not, there have been cases of relatives advising
suicide when there are inheritances or life insurance involved. Two
words sum it up: “elder abuse.”
In the age of Obamacare, we have to wonder what route
government health-care commissars would prefer to see chosen: a few
pills or expensive end-of-life care?
Essentially, assisted-suicide laws have the effect of
incentivizing suicide. In Oregon, the overall suicide rate has
increased 35 percent since assisted suicide was legalized. Another
fundamental effect is that the law turns the relationship between
doctors and patients upside down. Doctors are trained to heal, not how
to help someone die, and that’s why House Bill 505 has the support of so
The bill, which passed the House on a 54-45 vote and
is now awaiting action in the Senate, would not prevent doctors from
providing a full range of end-of-life care, including palliative care,
or providing pain medication, that can eventually lead to death.
Montana has been in limbo in regards to
physician-assisted suicide ever since the state Supreme Court came out
with a ruling in 2007 that muddied the matter, making consent of the
victim a possible defense for doctors while not addressing whether
others, such as family members, could be held criminally liable in a
There is a need for clarity. Yes, it is a complicated
issue, but it seems to us that the state should never condone the
taking of innocent life. Therefore, even though we sympathize with the
intentions of those who support physician-assisted suicide, we urge the
Legislature to err on the side of life, not on the side of death.