I take great umbrage at the characterization of the doctor from Missoula as “courageous” for opening the door to overt assisted suicide and euthanasia (“aid in dying”) in our great state. I am the widow of a respected Great Falls surgeon, James E. Mungas. Against his expressed wishes and despite his pleas for intervention for the “palliative” overdose he was given, he was ignored and euthanized at a hospice. As a physician he understood the great responsibility and power over life the profession conferred; he also understood and witnessed the hubris that led to abuses of that power. He opposed physician-assisted suicide, worried about the potential for abuse in palliative care and understood the seduction of “ending one’s suffering.”
There is a body of law, a code of ethics and ever-evolving standards of care developed for medical practitioners to ensure the safety of patients and the public. Doctors have been sued and in some cases indicted for negligence, impairment (alcohol and drugs), depraved indifference and poor judgment. We hold them accountable as “captains of the ship” for the errors of others involved in a case. These are all good and necessary measures to protect the public and the profession.
Physician-assisted suicide is a serious threat to the public safety. There is such incredible potential for abuse of the elderly, the handicapped, the mentally impaired, the chronically ill or catastrophically injured. Consent is not protection enough—it can easily be coerced, co-opted, contrived or added after the fact. It becomes a perfect cover for negligence and/or malpractice. Most people do not have the financial nor emotional resources to seek re-dress in these situations.
Humans make mistakes. Doctors are human. Sometimes they are wrong about the outcomes. The bombing at the Boston Marathon wrought devastating and horrific life-changing injuries to healthy, able-bodied people. In the aftermath, many will be severely depressed and probably want to commit suicide. Do we just kill them because they might “consent”?
The statement by the doctor from Missoula that he is “proud” after assisting three of his patients’ suicides is disturbing. His certitude is alarming. The first jump off the diving board and the first incision are the hardest, but all things repeated become easier. Said doctor’s conduct would suggest that assisting suicide is a pretty easy thing to which one could become accustomed.
I urge the governor, the attorney general and all public officials to do whatever they can to protect the public from physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. This is not about compassion and choice.
Carol E. Mungas