Dr. Ira Byock, professor at Dartmouth University’s Geisel School of Medicine, former head of Dartmouth Hospital’s palliative care department, and currently chief medical officer of the Providence Institute for Human Caring of Providence Health and Services, has been debating Compassion and Choices’ Barbara Coombs Lee on various radio and tv shows during the period of intense attention that has followed the release of Compassion and Choices’ ad promoting its Brittany Maynard Fund. The criticism of him has been intense and uncivil, culminating in a post by Ms. Maynard on the website of the Diane Rehm Show asking him to “quit talking about me”. Did Ms. Maynard not realize that going public with what could have been a private decision and using the publicity to promote the extension of assisted suicide to states beyond the three in which it is legal would open up a public debate? Public is public. Did she expect that sympathy for her tragic situation would silence the voices of those like Dr. Byock, who, after long experience working with terminally ill patients and long consideration of the ramifications of what she is promoting__making assistance in suicide a matter of public policy__, have arrived at the conclusion that this is very dangerous for far more people than it could ever help?
Legal assisted suicide is literally mortally dangerous for people like Randy Stroup and Barbara Wagner, who wanted life prolonging care but received letters of denial from the Oregon version of Medicaid in which assisted suicide was offered as an alternative (http://abcnews.go.com/Health/story?id=5517492). It is dangerous for elderly and disabled people who are already abused in large numbers and who are left completely unprotected from coercion or even homicide by the failure of every existing or proposed assisted suicide law to require disinterested witnesses at the time the lethal dose is ingested. It is dangerous for people who are assisted in suicide after having been told that they will live only a short time but who, like the young woman in the article linked here, might have lived much longer and been able to do many more things (http://abcnews.go.com/Health/mom-stuns-doctors-beating-deadliest-brain-cancer/story?id=18135106). It is dangerous for depressed and suggestible people, many of them young, among whom suicide coverage in the media, such as that surrounding the Maynard story and that contained in the annual reports in Washington and Oregon, has been shown to lead to clusters of copycat suicides (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/05/01/newspaper-suicide-clusters/8573239/) in an effect known as suicide contagion. It is dangerous for doctors whose whole concept of their role, as healers when they can be and carers when they can’t, but never as killers, will be changed by assisted suicide in ways that are impossible to predict but that Dr. Byock finds very disturbing, particularly in the context of a culture obsessed with cutting medical costs.
Here is the link to the statement issued October 24th, 2014 by the groups Not Dead Yet and Second Thoughts: