Friday, June 7, 2024

Beyond Terminal Illness. The Widening Scope of Physician-Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia in the US.

Please find Dr. Komrad's explanatory note to colleagues below.

Physician-assisted suicide (PAS)—commonly but misleadingly called “medical aid in dying”1—is now legal in 11 jurisdictions in the US. PAS remains an area of great controversy among physicians, medical ethicists, and various patient advocacy groups, as evidenced by numerous opinion pieces in Psychiatric Times.2,3 While we recognize that individuals of good conscience may differ on the ethics of PAS, we have consistently maintained—as the American Medical Association has opined—that4:

Physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks.

This position has also been consistently taken by the World Medical Association.5 Despite such clear statements, we and others have called attention to the ever-expanding eligibility criteria for PAS/euthanasia (PAS/E), particularly in Canada, Belgium, and the Netherlands. In essence, every one of these foreign jurisdictions that has legalized PAS/E has eventually expanded them—a phenomenon often referred to as “the slippery slope.”6

The expansion typically begins with the “low-hanging fruit” of end-stage or terminal illness and gradually broadens to “chronic, nonterminal, or treatment-refractory illness,” as one of us (M.S.K.) has shown.7

Whenever a line is drawn to limit eligibility criteria, those just outside the line protest, based on understandable (if misplaced) ethical principles of justice, fairness, and parity. Consequently, the boundaries of eligibility for PAS/E have been greatly stretched—in practice, in law, and in guidelines issued by professional organizations.8

As opponents of PAS/E, we often hear proponents claim that the slippery slope argument is merely hypothetical—an alarmist bogeyman used to scare away supporters of PAS/E.9 We also hear that, even if the slippery slope metaphor applies in foreign countries, “it would never happen here” in the US. We respectfully disagree. Although the angle of the slope is considerably greater in Canada and the Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg) than in the US, we find troubling signs of slippage here at home.

In this piece, we critically examine 2 such examples: (1) the introduction of California Senate Bill 1196, along with expanded PAS criteria in several other states; and (2) 3 cases of PAS in Colorado, in which patients with anorexia nervosa died from lethal prescribed drugs.

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I wanted to share with you an article that I wrote with colleagues Cynthia Geppert, Ronald Pies, and Anne Hansen is appearing on the front page this week of the most widely read application in mental health – Psychiatric Times.*

This degree of exposure will have a very widespread impact for our message about the reality of the "slippery slope” of assisted suicide laws and practices in the U.S, not just internationally. This phenomenon is, as we say in the article, not merely a "theoretical bogeyman" but the actual experience in the living laboratories where these practices have been legalized and misnamed "medical procedures."

I had actually sent the first online version to you in early May. It's been retitled for the purposes of this lead cover article. Here is a link to this cover story that also includes a useful table and figure which weren't in the original article published online. 


Mark S. Komrad M.D., DFAPA