Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Assisted Suicide as Treatment for Crohn's Disease, Arthritis, AIDS?

That the Swiss "suicide clinic" Dignitas has been involved in the deaths of many who could have lived long, meaningful lives has been known for quite awhile. For instance, the Journal of Medical Ethics revealed last year that over 21.% of those whose lives were ended there had a non-fatal illness.

Now the Guardian has found out that, among the 115 Britons who have died with Dignitas' help since 2002, several had such non-fatal conditions as Crohn's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and kidney disease.

The culture of death just keeps expanding.

Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: "I'm horrified by this list. While I appreciate that some patients with conditions like these experience great suffering and misery, I'm concerned because I know that many of the conditions outlined are conditions patients live with and can live with for many years and continue to have productive and meaningful lives."

While most of the conditions could contribute to a patient's death, equally people with many of them – such as Aids, cancer and tetraplegia – could, with the right treatment, lead fulfilling lives, added Field. NHS palliative care was too often "rather patchy", said Field, who was "worried" that not all the 114 patients may have been aware of treatments that could have prolonged their lives. Dr John Saunders, chair of the Royal College of Physicians' ethics committee, said: "The conditions are so varied that it suggests that Dignitas is not undertaking the adequate medical assessment [of patients seeking its help] that might be expected. The list does suggest that Dignitas is cavalier in arranging for people to end their lives."

Dr Tony Calland, chairman of the ethics committee at the British Medical Association, the doctors' union, said: "This list raises considerable concern. There are some conditions such as Crohn's disease and rheumatoid arthritis that, whilst extremely unpleasant, are eminently treatable and many of the symptoms can be relieved. To go off and commit suicide simply on the basis of these conditions would be premature and unreasonable."