Friday, August 14, 2009

Details, please

Newsweek has this piece that is supposedly debunking seven myths of the current healthcare debate. 

While debunking the myth that the House bill requires suicide counseling, this article states:
"Euthanasia, on the other hand, is legal in only three states, making it even more unlikely to be a major part of the federal health plan."

Pardon me, Newsweek, but euthanasia is not legal in any state. But death with dignity is legal in a handful of states.

The proper terminology makes a huge difference. Euthanasia in general means a mercy killing, but in practice usually refers to when a medical practitioner directly brings about death by administering medicine to the patient. Most people think of what vets do with their pets when they hear the word euthanize.

Death with dignity is a more specific phrase that refers exactly to the recently passed into law procedures in which the patient is prescribed medicine that they can take on their own to bring about their own death, on their own terms, at their own time, when they're comfortable doing so. And all along, the patient can decide not to go through with the practice. 

General euthanasia is not legal in any state. The specific act of death with dignity is legal in certain states. 

Besides which, since death with dignity is such a heated topic, and something that has the potential to make a revolutionary difference in the amount of choice and control people have over the way in which they approach death, they manner in which we speak about it is incredibly important. We need to be careful about what we're referring to and be clear about what we're talking about. I realize this was a side issue in this article, but a news magazine should be better at articulating the details. Simply calling it euthanasia is flippant, careless, and inaccurate.   


hospicephysician said...

LOL, I agree, totally irresponsible reporting. This is confusing enough without confusing the general public further. To address your quote below:

"when a medical practitioner directly brings about death by administering medicine to the patient"

This is true but to clarify even more, euthanasia is a deliberate act with the intention of causing death in a patient. There is an ethical principal called the "Rule of Double Effect" which states, a medical practitioner is not acting unethically by giving pain medication, for example, that may lead to death, if the intent is not to cause death but to relieve pain/shortness of breath or promote comfort.

Jessica Knapp said...

Thank you for helping me clarify, hospice physician.

I know some people refer to death with dignity as "voluntary euthanasia."

When the issue came up in Washington state last summer and fall, there was such a fight over whether it would be called "physician assisted suicide," or "death with dignity" on the ballot. I think the wording is so important. Euthanasia has negative implications for a lot of people, and it's just not specific enough to really address what these types of laws get at.