Docs Oppose California Assisted Suicide Bill

California's "End of Life Option Act" faces stiff opposition from the American College of Physicians. The bill will become state law unless California's Gov. Jerry Brown vetoes it.

California's "End of Life Option Act" faces stiff opposition from the American College of Physicians. The bill will become state law unless California's Gov. Jerry Brown vetoes it.

Today the ACP's President Wayne Riley, MD, MPH, MBA, MACP released a strongly worded letter he sent to Brown asking him to do just that.

Riley said the measure essentially asks physicians to abandon the dying patient. "It is not the role of the physician to give individuals control over the cause and timing of death--the medicalization of suicide," he wrote.

Rather than being an act of compassion, facilitating suicide "undermines trust in patient-physician relationships and trust in the profession of medcine," Riley continued.

The measure also plays on patients' fears that they will not have access to pain relief should they need it. But physicians already have an obligation to alleviate pain and other symptoms and to do so "with competence and compassion."

That means that "aggressive managment of pain at the end of life is ethically acceptable, even when the risk of hastening death is foreseeable," according to the group's code of ethics, he wrote.

Physician-assisted suicide has also been held a different issue from patients' right to refuse treatmtnets in several court decisions, he said.

Finally, Riley noted, it is ironic that a state is trying to help physicians end patients lives when it falls far short of guaranteeing that they have a right to life-sustaining forms of medical care--such as health care for those without insurance.

"We also note the paradox of access to physician assisted suicide whre there is no right to general health care," Riley said.