Barriers to Acceptance of Assisted Suicide

Euthanasia activists recognise that there are certain barriers that will need to be removed before they will get widespread voter support.
  • Terminology has always posed a problem for the acceptance of euthanasia, and much verbal engineering has been necessary over the years.
  • The phrases "assisted suicide" and "physician-assisted suicide" are being phased out.
  • Lack of support and opposition from medical assocoations has hampered efforts to legalise euthanasia.
  • Another reason for lack of support is because people fear doctors would abuse the law.
  • While inclusion of safeguards are necessary in euthanasia bills, those very safeguards feed people's fears.
Speakers and participants at the Fifth Anniversary Forum: Results of the Oregon 'Experiment' Conference, held in Portland, Oregon on October 24, 2002, were candid about barriers that stand in the way of public support for assisted suicide. Among these are terminology, lack of support from major medical associations, and fear created by safeguards.

Terminology Poses Problems.
Assisted-suicide activists know the power of words. They are keenly aware of the fact that all social engineering is preceded by verbal engineering. The names of most pro-assisted-suicide organizations are illustrative (e.g., Compassion in Dying, Death with Dignity National Association, Caring Friends, Oregon Death with Dignity, etc.).

In addition to changes in organizational names, the phrases “assisted suicide” and “physician-assisted suicide” (PAS) are being phased out. Since the word “suicide” conjures up negative public feelings, activists are seeking to delete it.

Oregon Assistant Attorney General Stephen Bushong said he never refers to “assisted suicide”: “I use the term 'physician aid-in-dying' or 'physician hastening death of a terminally ill person.'”

“Aid-in-dying” is currently the phrase of choice for many assisted suicide activists. But it is not new. Failed initiatives in Washington (1991) and California (1992) would have legalized “aid-in-dying,” defined to include both euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Likewise, a model law to permit lethal injections, or a fatal overdose for children as young as six, was called an “aid-in-dying” act.

Apparently, activists believe that the memories from those failed ventures has faded sufficiently, and they're banking on the fact that the resurrected label will convey a more gentle image.

At the January 2003, Hemlock Society Conference, officials announced that the organization was planning a name change that would reflect a softer image and therefore, be more appealing to the public. The new name is "End of Life Choices."

Lack of Support from Major Medical Associations.
With the exception of Oregon, where the State Medical Association did not take a position during the 1994 campaign that legalized assisted suicide, the American Medical Association(AMA) and State Medical Associations oppose assisted suicide.

Assisted-suicide activists seek to change this position since physician support or, at least, neutrality would greatly increase their prospects of success. This is particularly true in state houses where legislators could use physician support as cover for a favorable vote on an assisted-suicide measure.

“We're not going to succeed where there is only a legislative route unless there is a large shift on the part of large medical associations,” said conference speaker David Garrow. “We must produce a major change of opinion within the medical profession.”

Safeguards Create Fear
Dr. Marcia Angell, the former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, told conference participants that support for physician-assisted suicide is “soft, very skittish” because people fear doctors. And, while the inclusion of safeguards in assisted-suicide bills has been necessary to dispel fears, the safeguards themselves actually feed those fears.

“By adding safeguards, it gives the public the impression that physican assisted suicide is a very scary thing,” she said. "Safeguards create fear. Fear of abuse tops the list of concerns that create barriers to assisted-suicide support.

In order to get voter support, physicians are necessary.” Angell said she didn't think doctors should be “...let off the hook. When they sign on to take care of a patient, they should take care of the patient all the way through,” including assisting suicide.

Source: "The Human Life Review"