‘Medicalizing’ Physician-assisted Suicide


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It was with regret that I read the article and commentary on physician-assisted suicide in the June 10 issue of The ASCO Post (“Death with Dignity Program at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance,” by Matthew Stenger, and “One Cancer Center’s Approach to Death with Dignity,” by Frederick R. Appelbaum, MD).

The ethics of assisting a hopeless person with suicide is debatable. I see these articles as an effort to legitimize physician-assisted suicide by “medicalizing” the act—that is, by describing the activity in a scientific format. This is a tactic often used to legitimize activity previously recognized as negative or harmful. Moreover, the article uses euphemism—for example “assistance with dying” instead of “assisted suicide.”

Regardless of how physician-assisted suicide is described or analyzed, it does not change the fact that it may be unethical. Many physicians and oncologists in Washington State continue to care for patients with terminal illness and do not believe the legalization of this physician practice is necessary to provide compassionate care.

I think it is unfortunate that The ASCO Post chose to assist in the effort to legitimize this ethically controversial practice by presenting the information in a scientific format. ■

—Mitchell Garrison, MD
Hematology/Oncology
Wenatchee Valley Medical Center 
Wenatchee, Washington



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