Unbearable Pain

Stories Behind the Issue
Supporters often use emotional stories of terminally ill patients suffering in the final days of life to justify legalising physician-assisted suicide. These stories communicate that an early, premeditated death is the best, and perhaps the only, option for the patient.

When the medical journal The Lancet reported on interviews with cancer patients on June 29, 1996, it found that dying patients experiencing significant pain were more opposed to assisted suicide than the general public.

"Patients with pain do not seem to view euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide as the appropriate response to poor pain management," wrote Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, a director of the study. "Indeed, oncology patients in pain may be suspicious that if euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide are legalized, the medical care system may not focus sufficient resources on provision of pain relief and palliative care."

A number of medical professionals who work with dying patients have spoken out to dispute this perception. Consider the following statements:

"If we treat their depression and we treat their pain, I've never had a patient who wanted to die."-
William Wood, M.D., Clinical Director of the Winship Cancer Center at Emory University in Atlanta, as published in Time, April 15, 1996, p. 82.

"I simply have never seen a case nor heard of a colleague's case where it (physician-assisted suicide) was necessary. If there is such a request, it is always dropped when quality care is rendered."-
Linda Emanuel, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the American Medical Association's Institute on Ethics, as published in "The New Pro-Lifers," The New York Times Magazine, July 21, 1996.

"In my clinical practice, I have been asked by suffering patients to aid them in death because of severe pain. I have had the opportunity to see these requests for aid in death fade with adequate pain control, psychological support, provision of family support, and with the promise that their symptoms would be controlled throughout the dying process."-
Kathleen Foley, M.D., Chief of Pain Service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, as part of her testimony before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Washington D.C., April, 1996.

Note: Please attribute these statements to the appropriate sources if used in public speaking or printed communication.

"Painless Life"
In China a technique called "painless life" has been introduced to some hospitals, especially for late-stage cancer patients like Li's husband.

Xu Huifen, director of the Anaesthesia Department of Shanghai No. 6 People's Hospital says:
"Besides traditional injections of morphine and narcotics, there are three new methods to control pain," said Huang Yitian, a pain control doctor at a local hospital.

The first is fentanyl patch on the skin. The refined medicines in the patch can be directly absorbed by the skin and enter the body to control the pain.

This is the best measure for patients with a block in their digestive systems.

Patients can use a machine called the "antalgic pump" to adjust the dosage of antalgic medicine and other assistant medicine according to their pain condition.

The most effective method could be nerve block surgery. After the nerves are damaged, the pain cannot be transmitted through the nerve end to the spinal cord and brain.

Since the surgery is irreversible, the patients will experience less pain while resting. In some cases, patients can lead a normal life with regular meals and sleep, and take care of themselves without physical pain."