By Wesley J. Smith
When selling the legalization of assisted suicide, activists always promise that strict guidelines will protect against abuse.
After legalization, these protections are rebranded as “obstacles” or “barriers” that prevent patients from getting what they want. As soon as activists think they can get away with it, the law is loosened.
That process is unfolding in Washington State, where a new bill would let non-doctors be part of the assisted suicide bureaucratic process. From HB 1141 (my emphasis):
“Attending ((physician)) qualified medical provider” means the physician, physician assistant . . . or advanced registered nurse practitioner who has primary responsibility for the care of the patient and treatment of the patient’s terminal disease . . .
If the attending medical provider is an M.D., nurse practitioners and physician assistants can also be the second opinion “consulting” medical professional, who can even be employed by the attending physician. If the attending provider is not an M.D., the second opinion would have to be an M.D.
Understand what this means. Neither the attending nor consulting provider would actually have to be the patient’s long-term doctor. For example, if a patient’s own doctor refuses to lethally prescribe, a patient can ask an assisted-suicide-advocacy group to refer to an ideologically predisposed provider to become “attending,” who can, in turn, refer to the a consulting provider known to support assisted suicide.
Add in this fact. Sometimes, these consultations are done virtually over Zoom or Skype!
In other words, a patient who receives a lethal prescription might have only known the prescriber and the consulting provider for a very short time, both of whom only saw the patient — either in person or the consulting by Zoom — for the purpose of ending life.
The mental-health providers who would be allowed to clear patients thought to have a mental issue for death would also be loosened so that he or she need not be a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist:
“Counseling” means one or more consultations as necessary between a state licensed psychiatrist ((or)), psychologist, independent clinical social worker, advanced social worker, mental health counselor, or psychiatric advanced registered nurse practitioner and a patient for the purpose of determining that the patient is competent and not suffering from a psychiatric or psychological disorder or depression causing impaired judgment.
Richard Doerflinger — who recently retired from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and has been one of the world’s foremost experts on assisted-suicide laws and proposals for more than 40 years — explains the potential consequences in testimony opposing the bill:
Under state law, a Psychological evaluation can be done by a person with no qualifications. State law defines a “mental health counselor” to include any individual who counsels members of the public, for money.
The waiting period has also been reduced in some cases from six months to three days or waived entirely if one doctor and one non-doctor say the patient may die sooner! Doerflinger explains:
They will never be proved wrong if their prognosis immediately qualifies the patient for lethal drugs, and the law requires them to list the underlying condition as cause of death. Instant infallibility! Oral and written requests can be simultaneous, turning the health facility almost into a drive-through suicide clinic.
That’s the point with assisted suicide/euthanasia: Make death as easy to obtain as possible for as many people that the cultural circumstances of a given society will allow.
Bottom line. Once assisted suicide or legalization is legalized, whatever “protective guidelines” are put in the law to protect against abuse will erode over time. It isn’t a matter of if, but when.
Editor’s note. Wesley’s great columns appear at National Review Online and are reposted with his permission.