Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Lower Standard of Care for Physician-Assisted Suicide


This is so typical of the euthanasia movement: On one hand, they want doctors allowed to render what is essentially a non medical act--intentionally facilitating suicide--thereby slapping a patina of professional respectability upon the act. Then, on the other hand, after legitimizing assisted suicide as a medical treatment, they lower the standard of care required of the participating doctor, beneath that required in other doctor/patient interactions.

This is the relevant text from H 44, the new Vermont assisted suicide legalization bill--which is nearly identical to Oregon's law:


(a) No person shall be subject to civil or criminal liability or professional disciplinary action for participating in good faith compliance in accordance with this chapter. This includes being present when a qualified patient takes the prescribed medication to hasten his or her death in accordance with this chapter.
(c) No request by a patient for or provision by an attending physician of medication in good faith compliance with the provisions of this chapter shall constitute neglect for any purpose of law."

Thus, H 44 dramatically lowers the standard of care required of physicians to meet their professional responsibility.

To avoid liability for negligence, a physician's rendered services must usually meet the "standard of care," which is generally defined as taking actions or measures that a reasonable healthcare professional in the community would take in the same or similar circumstances. Thus it isn't what the doctor intends that matters (good faith). It is what he or she does or does not do (negligence or meeting the standard of care) that determines whether the services were provided in a proper professional manner.

Thus, if H 44 becomes the law in Vermont, a surgeon who acts negligently in good faith to save a patient's life, can still be sued for damages. But the same doctor who negligently assisted the suicide of the same patient in good faith, could not be similarly sued, thereby establishing a lower standard of care for assisting suicides than for treating patients.

Since a treating doctor seeks to save life, while the assisting suicide doctor intends to cause death, one would think the professional burdens would be the other way around.


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