During its annual convention in Indianapolis, the Indiana State Medical Association officially voiced its opposition to physician-assisted suicide.
Physician-assisted suicide, also known as assisted death or aid in dying, refers to when a terminally ill patient chooses to end his or her own life with the help of a doctor, usually with prescription drugs.
Patients administer drugs to themselves, differentiating the practice from euthanasia, which puts the death explicitly in the hands of a doctor. The practice is legal in six states, but in Indiana, it’s a Class B felony.
The ISMA—which represents approximately 8000 of the state’s physicians—has voted to officially oppose any attempt to make assisted death legal in Indiana. ISMA didn’t respond to interview requests, but at its annual convention members argued allowing the practice could potentially create a medical culture in which the elderly and disabled were encouraged to end their lives…as well as make it easier for caretakers to mistreat or even kill their patients.
“Will the government and insurance companies do the right thing –pay for treatment costing thousands of dollars—or the cheap thing—pay for lethal drugs costing hundreds of dollars?” ISMA stated in a press release.
But Gary Wiggins, a member of the Indiana chapter of Compassion & Choices, a nonprofit that advocates for end-of-life rights, says the decision should be one a patient makes.
“I feel like it’s a very slanted thing to leave it in the hands of the doctors exclusively,” he says.
Wiggins says he knows plenty of doctors who don’t agree with the ISMA. He additionally takes issue with several of the reasons the ISMA has cited for its position, such as a claim the law would make it easy for depressed people to kill themselves instead of heal through treatment.
In states where PAS has been legalized, patients “have to be mentally competent, they cannot be suffering from depression,” he says. “So the statement in the ISMA press release that depressed people can just get this medicine, that’s not true.”
Wiggins also says that despite the Association’s claims, there sometimes aren’t options for easing pain and suffering. At that point, he says, patients should have the right to end their lives on their own terms.
The American Medical Association is currently weighing its position on the matter.