Pain Management–Not Physician Assisted Suicide

by Christopher White, CBC Director of Research and Education on January 27, 2016

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An article just out in Psychiatric Times offers one doctor’s reasoning for opposing physician assisted suicide laws. He is not religious, nor is he socially conservative, as some people are quick to label opponents of physician assisted suicide laws. Instead, he is a psychiatrist and a pain management specialist who believes that an overwhelming majority of individuals who seek out this practice are depressed and need better pain management offered to them during illness.

As we have seen in states where physician assisted suicide is already legal, the underlying issue (often depression) is ignored when patients seek out this practice. As Dr. King notes, “A study from Oregon found that of those who died under its RTD [Right to Die] law in 2014, fewer than 3% were referred for a mental health evaluation.”

Moreover, physician assisted suicide laws are often a Band-Aid “solution” that fails to address pain management. In surveying the law that recently legalized the practice in California, Dr. King observes that the

…law requires that the patient’s attending physician present “feasible alternatives or additional treatment options, including, but not limited to, comfort care, hospice care, palliative care, and pain control.” This all sounds fine. The problem is that every study of which I am aware has shown that pain is often poorly managed, including in terminally ill patients.

Rather than a national movement to enact physician assisted suicide laws, Dr. King proposes that we need a national strategy to improve pain management—for those terminally ill or otherwise. Such a proposal is one that is both patient centered and one that is consistent with the medical profession’s commitment to do no harm.

Image by armydre2008 via flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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