Wednesday, August 30, 2017
Some California doctors were concerned when the state Legislature passed a law allowing terminally ill patients to request physician-assisted suicide. In addition to this being a fairly clear violation of the Hippocratic oath, many physicians harbor religious and moral beliefs in conflict with the practice. For these, the law allows an exemption.
No matter the perspective, there have been some unexpected positive consequences associated with the availability of the procedure. Namely, an improvement in the care for terminally ill patients. For those patients that request the service, only a small fraction make it through the whole process. What has changed dramatically are the conversations patients are having with physicians and health workers. Dying patients, by requesting the end-of-life option, are forced to discuss their concerns, worries, pains, and suffering they endure. In some cases, especially those suffering under constant pain, physicians may adjust medication levels to accommodate their needs. This simple change has encouraged some patients to drop from the program.
So, while the process is still controversial, it has raised awareness regarding the need for these difficult conversations between patients and doctors and how ineffective policies had been prior to the passage of the law.
See Soumya Karlamangla, There's an Unforeseen Benefit To California's Physician-assisted Death Law, Los Angeles Times, August 21, 2017.
Special thanks to Joel C. Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.