Maryland lawmakers recently withdrew from consideration legislation that would have permitted physician-assisted suicide. Five states have already legalized the controversial practice, while other states are considering its legalization. Opponents of the practice contend that while many patients are being exposed to it, they may not have the capacity – due to their medical condition – to make an informed decision.
In Maryland, Dr. Francisco Hoyos, a medical doctor who specializes in sleep disorders, spoke to members of Maryland’s legislature to encourage them to improve, promote and advance palliative care instead of dividing the community, and physicians from their patients, with proposals to terminate medically the lives of patients.
In a statement released after his testimony was delivered, Dr. Hoyos gave responses to questions about physician-assisted suicide and its ramifications for medicine, and human rights. When asked about issues that arise with permitting the practice, Hoyos wrote: “These types of bills are divisive and violate the sanctity of life. As a physician, it is part of our principles to be on the patient's side and to protect them. We took the Hippocratic Oath, ‘I will not give poison to anyone though asked to do so.’"
Dr. Hoyos pointed out that many patients actually live well past the projections made for their life-span following diagnosis of a life-threatening illness. “Proponents of this legislation,” said Hoyos, say that patients with a terminal illness should be given the drugs to kill themselves. “However, we have seen that patients have lived for several years past their initial six-month diagnosis. This is a clear example that this concept is not evidence-based; the diagnosis is no safeguard at all.”
He also expressed concern that physicians who refuse to prescribe life-terminating drugs will be isolated within the medical community.
Dr. Hoyos, who practices at Providence Hospital in Washington DC, also said that medical providers need to promote “good palliative, family-centered care with our associates and communities and be prepared to face it and to talk about it.” Calling for unity among physicians and others in the medical community, Dr. Hoyos said that when patients ask for physician-assisted suicide, they should be instead given “different resources to meet their needs without going to the extreme of killing themselves.”
Francisco Hoyos, MD
The impact of allowing physician-assisted suicide has been seen in the states that allow the practice. In Oregon
, for example, cancer patients Barbara Wagner and Randy Stroup, Oregonians were both informed by the Oregon Health Plan that under Obamacare, physician-assisted suicide would be covered but not life-saving prescribed chemotherapy.
Elsewhere in the world, where physician-assisted suicide is legalized, are emerging to permit the removal of healthy organs from patients even before they die. For example, in March, medical researcher Jan Bollen advocated the practice of “heart-beating organ donation euthanasia” in the UK-based Journal of Medical Ethics
. This would involve an operation in which organs would be taken from still-living patients who have ostensibly given permission.
Reacting to the journal article, Fiona Bruce – a member of the British parliament – said that vulnerable people are in danger. She said, “The authors of the paper themselves confirm that the combination of euthanasia and organ donation could undermine doctors' motivations and encourage them to look beyond just the well-being of their patient. What this paper reveals is yet another way in which vulnerable people – to whom we owe greatest support and protection – would be put under pressure to end their lives prematurely. That strikes at the heart of a compassionate society, and confirms that Parliament made the right decision when it decisively rejected proposals to legalise physician-assisted suicide.”
Dr. Hoyos serves as chair of the Ethics Committee and director of the Internal Medicine Residency program at Providence Hospital, which is part of the Ascension system of medical care providers.