Proponents of assisted suicide often cite the fact that most Oregon patients who die from assisted suicide are enrolled in hospice to try to prove that legal assisted suicide has led to enormous improvements in end of life care. Kathleen Foley MD, a neurologist and palliative care physician who holds the The Society of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Chair, disagrees. Back in 2008, she and co-author Herbert Hendin MD, a psychiatrist and suicide prevention expert from NY, wrote:
The OPHD’s yearly progress reports contend that patients who requested assisted suicide were receiving adequate end of life care, citing the frequency with which patients were in hospice care as evidence. However a referral to hospice care cannot be regarded as a substantive palliative care intervention without knowing what care the hospice provided (Section D at http://www.michiganlawreview.org/assets/pdfs/106/8/hendinfoley.pdf,). OPHD stands for Oregon Public Health Department. Foley and Hendin go on to say there is ample evidence that palliative care in Oregon is not as good as claimed. They also, writing as physicians, claim that the availability of legal assisted suicide makes it less, not more, likely that patients will receive the best possible end of life care.
For anyone who thinks the state of hospice care in this country is good enough to warrant disregarding lack of excellent end of life care as a factor contributing, not so much to the push for assisted suicide, which seems based on an exaggerated idealization of personal autonomy regardless of the risks such autonomy presents to others, but to polls that purport to show public support, the article linked below, published in the Washington Post of May 4, 2014, should be an eye-opener. As many of the comments point out, a lot of the problems detailed in this article are the results of Medicare’s funding protocols. Does anyone think these are likely to be based on mercy rather than cost-cutting any time in the near future?