While some medical organizations endorse physician-assisted suicide, pro-lifers must combat their arguments

While some medical organizations endorse physician-assisted suicide, pro-lifers must combat their arguments.

By Jackson Milton
Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act went into effect in 1997. Subsequently, five additional states (Washington, Vermont, Hawaii, California, and Colorado) and Washington D.C. have legalized the practice of physician-assisted suicide (PAS). Contrary to some reports, the Montana Supreme Court did not legalize PAS in 2009, but it did rule that a patient’s consent to assisted suicide was a defense for an assisting physician. Proponents continue to promote legislation to permit PAS across the nation, and many states are actively considering adopting these unethical measures. Shamefully, some medical organizations have actively aided and abetted these efforts through euphemistic rhetoric and distorted ethical arguments. The American Nurses Association (ANA) has become the most recent organization to capitulate to the supporters of physician-assisted suicide.
Although not yet official, the ANA has released a draft of their position statement—“The Nurse’s Role When a Patient Requests Aid in Dying”—outlining their generally favorable stance toward PAS. The statement unsurprisingly uses a euphemism, “Aid in Dying,” to frame their proposed position. Unfortunately, the draft statement is riddled with many common mischaracterizations and fails to adequately address the ethical concerns surrounding legal PAS.
Ironically, the ANA rejects euthanasia in the very same position statement. The difference between euthanasia and PAS is not an ethical one, but merely a logistical one. In euthanasia, the physician actively administers the lethal medication to the patient, thereby directly causing the death of the patient. In PAS, the physician prescribes the lethal medication to the patient for him to ingest at some later time. Both methods intend to cause the death of the patient, violating the patient’s inherent dignity and Right to Life. If euthanasia is illicit and therefore inconsistent with the nursing profession, then physician-assisted suicide must be, too.
The draft position statement rightly recognizes the importance of protecting the nurse’s conscience regarding assisted suicide. However, it contains several comments contradicting that recognition, including telling nurses who object that they should identify nurses willing to participate in the unethical procedure. This framework would compel nurses to cooperate in PAS, which is a grave violation of their conscience rights.
While the statement identifies that many people choose assisted suicide out of fear of incurable pain and suffering, no proof for this is cited. Oregon’s experience, in fact, does not support this claim. The Oregon Health Division’s annual reports on PAS consistently show that the top reasons doctors give for their patients’ assisted suicide requests are not pain or fear of future pain, but psychological issues: “loss of autonomy,” “less able to engage in activities”, “loss of dignity,” “losing control of bodily functions,” and “burden on others.” Furthermore, the ANA fails to adequately analyze this argument. The ANA knows well that the solution to pain is effective pain management and medical staff’s dedication to accompany patients through their time of difficulty. Suffering must be addressed with true compassion, and, when necessary, nurses should help patients endure and comfort them, not support ending their lives to avoid future pain.
Medical organizations, no matter how prestigious or historic, are susceptible to cultural pressure and systematic degradation of their medical ethics. The ANA has bought into the deadly lie that some lives are not worthy of defending and that imposing death can be compassionate, ethical medicine. Pro-Lifers across the country must combat the arguments for physician-assisted suicide, regardless of who promotes them.
About the author: Jackson Milton serves as a Legislative and Political Associate for Texas Right to Life, where he works to enact life-saving legislation and elect Pro-Life candidates. He graduated from Texas A&M in 2017 with a degree in Meteorology, and currently studies bioethics at the National Catholic Bioethics Center and the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota.
HALO Note:
The ANA does not represent most nurses. Nancy Valko, RN reports,
The ANA doesn’t give membership statistics, but a research paper about the declining membership of nurses in professional organizations says: “While the American Nurses Association (ANA) states it ‘is the premier organization representing the interests of the nation's 4 million registered nurses’, less than ten percent of the nation’s nurses are members of the ANA or other professional organizations." [Emphasis added.]

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