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50+: Live Better, Longer

Legalized Suicide May Bring Better Care to the Dying

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That may be true, says William Toffler, MD, but "it may well be for very negative reasons." Concluding from this study that legalized suicide is a good idea is comparable to applauding the legalization of drunk driving "if it resulted in a redoubled effort to build safer cars," he says.

Toffler is a professor of family medicine at Oregon Health Sciences Center in Portland and national director of Physicians for Compassionate Care. He reviewed the study for WebMD.

Toffler tells WebMD that the Death with Dignity Act is wrong on several levels. First and foremost, physician-assisted suicide represents an ongoing and obvious conflict of interest. "On the one hand, these doctors are trying to protect the fiscal viability of their healthcare bureaucracy, and on the other, they're at the bedside [deciding] whether someone will receive lethal [drugs]."

And the law does not provide the empowerment that dying patients seek, he says. Rather, it empowers physicians, setting a dangerous precedent where "we treat people differently, based on their illness. This law codifies inequitable treatment where those with a so-called terminal disease are offered a different solution: ending their life," he says.

According to Ganzini, people on both sides of the argument agree that assisted suicide is only a very small part of care for the dying. "Even with this law in place, assisted suicide accounts for only nine out of every 10,000 deaths in Oregon," she tells WebMD.

The message of the study, says Ganzini, "is that improvements in end-of-life care need to come not only from the medical profession, but from ... patients and families. People should understand the availability and benefits of hospice care ... during periods of severe illness."

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