Saturday, March 30, 2024

Illinois Doctor Opposes Assisted Suicide & Euthanasia Legalization

By Dr. Kevin Garner*

I am writing as a medical doctor with board certifications in internal medicine, hospice and palliative medicine, and addiction medicine. I work as a hospital physician, a hospice consultant, and provide primary care to an underserved population suffering from mental illness and addiction. Due to the Illinois Senate’s recent efforts to legalize “medical aid in dying” (aka, physician assisted suicide or euthanasia), I feel compelled to voice the opinion of many in the medical community regarding our opposition to empowering medical professionals to prescribe death.

The bill [SB 3499] is based on several flawed assumptions. Firstly, it overestimates the accuracy of a physician’s ability to predict a patient’s death within six months. Over the years, I have witnessed numerous patients who, despite meeting the six-month prognosis criteria for hospice care, have survived well beyond this period. Published studies confirm the high variability of physician prognostication.

Secondly, the legislation implicitly but falsely promises a quick and peaceful death. In reality, the administration of lethal drugs often results in a prolonged and distressing dying process. Moreover, the drugs used for this purpose are not FDA-approved and lack proper medical oversight, rendering their use not only unregulated but also experimental. Thirdly, the public discourse around the use of lethal drugs for dementia patients is deeply concerning. It is evident from the experiences of states like Oregon, Hawaii, Washington, California, and Vermont that once assisted suicide laws are passed, their expansion is almost inevitable. In these states, it is possible for someone other than the individual afflicted by dementia to choose suicide for that patient.

Data from Oregon shows that fear of pain does not rank among the top five reasons for requesting assisted suicide. Instead, reasons such as loss of autonomy and dignity, potential burden on family and friends, and inability to participate in life’s activities are cited. These reasons, while significant, should not justify enjoining a physician to one’s life.

I am particularly concerned that SB 3499 does not require a mental health evaluation for individuals requesting assisted suicide. Depression is a common and treatable condition, often overlooked by busy physicians, that can significantly influence the desire to die.

Lastly, as a hospice physician, I find it appalling that the bill disregards the fact that symptoms such as pain, depression, and anxiety can be managed through proper palliative care. The proposed legislation promotes suicide instead of suicide prevention, thereby discriminating against the elderly, the chronically ill, the mentally ill, and the disabled.

In conclusion, I believe the physician’s role is to relieve suffering and to provide compassionate, competent care at all stages of our patients’ lives. It is not necessary to legalize, medicalize, and normalize suicide. Assisted suicide ushers in abuse, discrimination, and injustice. Rather than assenting to hastened death, we should advocate for increased access to mental health, palliative care, and hospice services. I urge the legislature to reject SB 3499 and allow medical doctors to continue their roles as protectors and healers.

* Dr. Kevin Garner serves as medical director of a federally qualified health care center in Granite City, IL, as associate medical director for a hospice based in Fairview Heights, IL, and is a hospitalist in Maryville.