State laws legalizing physician-assisted suicide are growing in number. Recently, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill legalizing the provision of end of life drugs to terminally ill patients. Governor Brown, who experienced difficulty in deciding whether or not to sign the bill, ultimately decided to sign the bill when he put himself in the shoes of others who were experiencing pain and suffering. According to Governor Brown, he did not want to deny to terminally ill patients comfort from pain and suffering.
There are two critical benefits associated with physician-assisted suicide. One of the benefits is that it allows for patient autonomy. Essentially, individual patients are in control of their death. In addition, it allows for a patient to choose to end pain and suffering, which is often beneficial for terminally ill patients whose lives could be extended through medical advances, but who would suffer a decline in their quality of life as a result.
Despite these positives, according to detractors of the law, the downfalls to physician-assisted suicide can be seen when you look at the bill from the viewpoint of low-income individuals instead of wealthier people. Critics argue that physician assisted suicide may potentially put pressure on “the poor, the lonely, and the excluded” to end their own lives. For instance, a study conducted by Oregon’s Public Health Department revealed that only 23% of people cited concerns about pain and suffering as their reason for choosing physician assisted suicide. However, an overwhelming majority chose physician–assisted suicide because they did not want to lose autonomy, dignity, or be a burden to others. In addition, in Oregon, where physician-assisted suicide is legal, many low-income individuals qualify for physician-assisted suicide but not basic treatments or hospice care. Thus, although the intent of this bill was to end pain and suffering, in reality there are some downsides to the law that may impact the poor, lonely, or excluded.