Human Exceptionalism

Doctors Forced to Refer for Starvation Suicides?

It is very interesting that as some bioethicists complain about doctors being prohibited from discussing guns with their patients in Florida, they are apparently silent about a California proposal to force them to give information on non-medical legal end of life options, by which I mean, suicide by self-starvation (VSED).

The bill is California’s AB 2139, which states in pertinent part:

When a health care provider makes a diagnosis that patient has a terminal illness, the health care provider shall do both of the following:

(1) Notify the patient of his or her right to, or when applicable, the agent of the patient’s right to, comprehensive information and counseling regarding legal end-of-life options and, upon the patient or agent’s request, provide the patient or agent…comprehensive information and counseling regarding legal end-of-life options…

(2) Upon the request of the patient…provide the patient or other authorized person with comprehensive information and counseling regarding legal end-of-life care options pursuant to this section. When a terminally ill patient is in a health facility…the health care provider, or medical director of the health facility if the patient’s health care provider is not available, may refer the patient…to a hospice provider or private or public agencies and community-based organizations that specialize in end-of-life care case management and consultation to receive comprehensive information and counseling regarding legal end-of-life care options.

The Hemlock Society Compassion and Choices has been striving to redefine itself as an expert private organization on end of life choices. One of the “choices” it pushes is suicide by self-starvation and thirst (VSED, voluntary stopping eating and drinking), an instructional booklet for which C & C posts on its Website.

Thus, this section is also worrying:

(c) The information described…may, but is not required to, be in writing. Health care providers may utilize information from organizations specializing in end-of-life care that provide information on factsheets and Internet Web sites to convey the information described in subdivision (b).

As written, this bill could leasily be interpreted as legally requiring doctors to offer their patients information on committing suicide–which, after all, is a “legal” option–and/or about how to commit VSED with a doctor’s help, and/or require them to refer to organizations that push such acts.

If assisted suicide or euthanasia were legalized and this legislation was in effect, it would require doctors to refer to a kill or give information on how to be made dead through lethal means.

I am not a fan of mandating speech in the clinical setting. Regardless of that point, this proposal needs to be amended to ensure that only legal medical and non-lethal options are required to be provided.

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