Would legalizing euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide destroy patient trust in the medical profession?
Bernard Baumrin, PhD, MD, Professor of Philosophy at the City University of New York, wrote in his chapter, "Physician, Stay Thy Hand!" that appeared in the 1998 book Physician Assisted Suicide: Expanding the Debate:
"Doctors must not engage in assisting suicide. They are inheritors of a valuable tradition that inspires public trust. None should be even partly responsible for the erosion of that trust. Nothing that is remotely beneficial to some particular patient in extremis is worth the damage that will be created by the perception that physicians sometimes aid and even abet people in taking their own lives."
Leon Kass, MD, PhD, former Chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics, wrote in his Aug. 9, 1991 article "Why Doctors Must Not Kill," that appeared in Commonweal:
"The taboo against doctors killing patients (even on request) is the very embodiment of reason and wisdom. Without it, medicine will have trouble doing its proper work; without it, medicine will have lost its claim to be an ethical and trustworthy profession...
Consider first the damaging consequences for the doctor-patient relationship. The patient's trust in the doctors's wholehearted devotion to the patient's best interests will be hard to sustain once doctors are licensed to kill."
Physicians for Compassionate Care Vice-President Ken Stevens shared his story on the organization's "Top 10 FAQs" section of its website, under the question "Does Physician Assisted Suicide Destroy the Trust between Patient and Doctor?," (accessed on Aug. 14, 2006):
"For three years my wife had been suffering from advancing malignant lymphoma... As we were about to leave his office, her physician said, 'Well, I could write a prescription for an 'extra large' amount of pain medicaiton for you'... As I helped her to our car, she said, 'He wants me to kill myself.' She and I were devestated. How could her trusted physician subtly suggest to her that she take her own life with lethal drugs? We had felt much discouragement during the prior three years, but not the deep despair that we felt at that time when her physician, her trusted physician, subtly suggested that suicide should be considered... Physician-assisted suicide does destroy trust between patient and physician."
Marcia Angell, MD, Senior Lecturer at Harvard Medical School, wrote in her Jan. 2, 1997 Editorial "The Supreme Court and Physician-Assisted Suicide--The Ultimate Right," that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine:
"Doctors who are opposed in principle [to physician-assisted suicide] need not assist, but they should make their patients aware of their position early in the relationship so that a patient who chooses to select another doctor can do so. The greatest harm we can do is to consign a desperate patient to unbearable suffering -- or force the patient to seek out a stranger like Dr. Kevorkian. Contrary to the frequent assertion that permitting physician-assisted suicide would lead patients to distrust their doctors, I believe distrust is more likely to arise from uncertainty about whether a doctor will honor a patient's wishes."
Mark Hall, JD, Fred D. & Elizabeth L. Turnage Professor of Law at Wake Forest University, stated in a Dec. 24, 2005 article titled "Euthanasia; Research Suggests Doctor-Assisted Suicide Wouldn't Undermine Patient Trust," published in Obesity, Fitness & Wellness Week:
"Overall, three times as many people disagree as agree that legalizing physician-assisted death would cause them to trust their personal doctors less...
Despite the widespread concern that legalizing physician-assisted death would seriously threaten or undermind trust in physicians, the weight of the evidence in the United States is to the contrary...
Our study shows that only about 20% of people believe they would trust their physician less if euthanasia were legalized... The empirical support is weak for those who confidently assert that legalizing physician-assisted death would undermine trust in physicians for most people in the United States."
Peter Rogatz, MD, MPH, founding board member of Compassion in Dying of New York, wrote in his Nov.-Dec. 2001 article, "The Positive Virtues of Physician-Assisted Suicide: Physician-Assisted Suicide is Among the Most Hotly Debated Bioethical Issues of Our Time," that appeared in The Humanist:
"... It is argued that permitting physician-assisted suicide would undermine the sense of trust that patients have in their doctors. This is curious reasoning; patients are not lying in bed wondering if their physicians are going to kill them--and permitting assisted suicide shouldn't create such fears, since the act of administering a fatal dose would be solely within the control of the patient. Rather than undermining a patient's trust, I would expect the legalization of physician-assisted suicide to enhance that trust. I have spoken with a great many people who feel that they would like to be able to trust their physicians to provide such help in the event of unrelieved suffering--and making that possible would give such patients a greater sense of security."