Physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia are becoming increasingly common across the globe. Just in the last year, Switzerland legalized the use of self-operated “suicide pods”, Canada removed the mental illness exclusion in their assisted suicide law, and the Austrian Supreme Court overturned the nation’s ban on assisted suicide on the basis of “self-determination”. As these life-threatening policies become more popular, voices speaking out against these laws are becoming rarer.
One of these bold voices is the College of Psychiatrists in Ireland (CPsychI), which recently published a position paper on Physician Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia (PAS-E). In the face of growing opposition to the Culture of Life, especially in Europe, the authors provide expert psychiatric opinion on why PAS-E violates common medical practice, ethical guidance, and human decency.
The CPsychI base their argument on one of the most essential principles of Life: that all human beings have equal dignity, “a dignity that is intrinsic, not contingent or attributed, and is not lost or diminished by illness or disability.” The CPsychI rightly points out that “PAS-E implies acceptance of the notion that some lives are not worth living.” As Pro-Lifers, we agree with this entirely.
Proponents of PAS-E often exploit this idea of dignity, proclaiming that a “death with dignity” is achieved by letting people take control of the manner and timing of their deaths. However, euthanasia never offers a dignified death, and methods of assisted death can increase and extend suffering. Intentional killing, whether assisted or not, treats human Life as disposable, and thus is never, ever dignified.
The CPsychI paper also highlights the problematic manipulation of “compassion” to justify the desire to legalize assisted death. If an abstract, undefined sense of compassion is the only guiding principle, then no restriction on PAS-E would be warranted. That would get messy fast. Additionally, “compassion” is subjective, and equally sympathetic feelings can prompt very different responses. The Pro-Life community also approaches this issue with compassion, instead believing that high-quality end-of-life care is the most compassionate and dignified.
The Irish psychiatrists come from a different perspective than we usually hear, having expertise in medicine of the mind rather than medicine of the body. The CPsychI claims that, as people approach the end of Life or endure long periods of suffering, they might encounter fear, anxiety, and depression. If PAS-E is available, these stresses might push the person to opt for an “easier way out”, making this decision less-than-voluntary, bordering on coercive.
At the end of the paper, the CPsychI proposes Pro-Life alternatives to legalizing PAS-E. First is the improvement of hospice and palliative care to ease mental and physical suffering. Also important is the call to protect vulnerable patients and lift stress from caregivers so patients do not feel compelled to choose PAS-E for fear of being a burden.
Perhaps the most important take-away is the concluding emphasis that death is never the solution to human suffering. Much of the public support for PAS-E stems from the concern that we are unable to treat the suffering and distress that people experience at the end of Life, making death seem preferable. According to the CPsychI, “appropriate treatment for psychiatric complications of terminal illness is the best way to address this fear and should reduce requests for PAS-E.”
This paper from the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland inspires hope that other experts and activists worldwide will continue to fight against the gradual legalizing and moral acceptance of PAS-E. Lives are on the line, and more courageous groups and individuals like the CPsychI are needed to protect the most vulnerable.