It's unnerving anytime the government gets more involved in healthcare. Despite worthy intentions, actions by lawmakers have ranged from the dubious to the absurd.
That's why healthcare providers are wise to oppose moves to legalize physician-assisted suicide.
The problem with any law that relates to the practice of medicine is that two potentially meddlesome characters can infiltrate the process. And in the case of assisted suicide, the politician and the lawyer would have a field day pontificating and litigating the limits of the law.
Oregon is the only state to have legalized assisted suicide, although implementation has been blocked by a court challenge. Voters in California and Washington turned down similar initiatives, and the U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether to uphold state laws that make assisting suicide a crime.
This is an issue that will continue to smolder. But as the American Hospital Association aptly puts it, legalizing assisted suicide "would create an administrative nightmare for hospitals and other healthcare providers as courts struggle to define the parameters."
It is this uncertainty and potential liability that should unite healthcare professionals against their legal "right" to participate in patient suicide. At the same time, we oppose criminal penalties against those who assist in patient suicide.
Instead of the courtroom or the bully pulpit, discussions about ending a life prematurely or not sustaining it through technology should remain in the purview of the patient, the family and the caregiver. Advanced directives, living wills and frank discussion about pain are more useful than legal language and state statutes.
Government action seeking to clear the clouds of confusion about suicide only serves to further complicate this emotionally charged debate. In this case, the best law is no law at all.