This month, Coloradans will consider legalizing Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) by voting on Proposition 106. While eliminating suffering is laudable and indeed a solemn duty of every physician, eliminating the sufferer fails to address the inherent dignity of the human person and the underlying pain, anxiety and depression that the terminally ill patient may be experiencing.
Love is needed in these moments, not lethality. PAS will fundamentally alter the sacred doctor-patient relationship, bringing the spoken or unspoken possibility of a lethal prescription into the therapeutic options available for patients, especially for those most vulnerable — the elderly, terminally ill, disabled and marginalized.
As a physician, this has me and many of my colleagues particularly concerned. Already, many patients with chronic illness or terminal disease — whether they verbalize it or not — feel like they are a burden to their caregivers and society; legalizing PAS will validate this and the so-called Right-to-Die will slide into a perceived Duty-to-Die. Most people experience pain, anxiety and depression at varying points in their lives — conditions that are part of the human experience, demand compassion and are treatable.
These difficult moments can also provide moments of grace often only seen in retrospect. St. John Paul II’s visible suffering at the end of his earthly life, and Saint Mother Theresa of Calcutta’s lifelong suffering that only became known after her death serve as immediate examples of grace in the face of suffering. Who but God knows His ultimate design? Ultimately PAS seeks to wrestle control from God and falsely give it back to the sufferer.
And PAS will affect all Coloradans, particularly those at risk for suicide. What kind of message does a teenager at-risk for suicide receive, when society deems it licit for certain suffering people to end their lives with the blessings and assistance of the medical profession?
Not surprisingly, suicide rates have escalated in Oregon and other places where PAS has been legalized. Anecdotal stories may give the appearance that PAS is a plausible good, but there are reasons PAS has been strongly opposed by Hippocrates and the medical profession for over 2400 years, as well as the Catholic Church.
PAS will fundamentally erode suffering patients’ trust in those who ought to care and advocate for them above all else — physicians and their caregivers. Please consider the consequences and vote no on Proposition 106.
Peter Zimmer, MD, FACS