In response to a question regarding True Dignity’s proposal to develop a registry of “safe” health care providers and institutions, Vermont Commissioner of Health Harry Chen said one of the potential “silver linings” of S.77 is that it will spur conversations between patients and doctors about end-of-life decisions, and a “safe doctors” registry could discourage that.
“I’m not sure it really serves any purpose other than putting off having those conversations,” Chen told the Vermont Digger: http://vtdigger.org/2013/05/20/death-with-dignity-signed-into-law-in-vermont/
This begs the question as to whether doctors will be compelled to present assisted suicide as a “health care option” to all patients who receive a terminal diagnosis. When a trusted health care professional proposes assisted suicide as one of an array of “health care options” that should be considered, it immediately raises it to a new level of legitimacy, and goes beyond what the proponents of this law have persistently claimed: That it will be used exclusively by the small number of people who make the request. Planting the seed in a vulnerable patient’s mind that suicide is a “treatment” for their condition goes well beyond that.
The law says that doctors and health care institutions have a right to opt out of participating in an assisted suicide. If, as Chen’s comment seems to suggest, doctors might still be required to present assisted suicide as a treatment option for a terminal illness, it is conceivable that doctors who oppose assisted suicide might avoid making a terminal diagnosis altogether. This unfortunately could deprive a patient of seeking access to palliative care options that might be of great benefit. Contrary to Chen’s suggestion, a “safe registry” would actually allow for more openness between doctors and patients, by allowing patients to choose doctors and facilities whom they know will do everything possible to assure they get the best palliative care, treatment and pain management as their illness progresses.
We need to watch very closely to see how the statute is implemented in the coming months, and let our health care providers know we do not want assisted suicide to be part of the required protocol for discussing end of life issues.