Source: The Tribune, Greeley and Weld County, CO
By: William Bolthouse
I have the privilege of serving poor and uninsured patients in my practice at the Inner City Health Center in Denver. Besides my medical education, one of the greatest assets I have in this important work is the trust I have with my patients. Legislation introduced in the Colorado State Legislature to legalize doctor-prescribed suicide undermines that trust. If this bill becomes law, it changes the relationship between doctor and patient from one of curing and caring, to something quite different.
I understand the demands physicians experience in their practices, including increased workloads, stress and time pressures. Writing a patient a lethal prescription is cheaper and easier than providing good end-of-life care and counsel. Do we want to give doctors that kind of power?
Physicians wield tremendous influence with their patients, but it is influence based on a trust alliance. These bills are an unwelcome intrusion into the doctor/patient relationship and will affect all physicians regardless of whether they participate in physician-assisted suicide.
Whether I look at my own family’s medical bills or try to help my poor patients find affordable alternatives, it is apparent health care costs are completely out of control. It comes down to math: a couple hundred dollars for a lethal bottle of pills compared to providing quality end-of-life care.
Do we trust our government health systems or insurance companies to provide for the patient’s needs at the end of their life, or will they encourage the expedient solution, as has been seen in the Oregon health system? Will families and doctors direct patients toward the best choice or the cheapest one?
Advocates for assisted suicide claim there are no abuses in Oregon, where it is legal. In reality, Oregon’s law only permits a skeleton of information to be collected, so we really don’t know what is happening there. Alarmingly, the Colorado bills under consideration have no reporting requirements at all, so doctors have no legal incentive to follow the law. The bills make it nearly impossible for the state to prove a doctor broke the law, which increases protections for doctors, but eliminates protections for vulnerable patients.
Finally, I’m a rancher as well as a doctor and on our ranch we spend a lot of time fixing fences. Fences are subject to both natural and unnatural forces, and over time take a beating. Right now, we have really good fences in our medical tradition. We don’t help people kill themselves. We don’t cross that line.
When patients come to see me, I apply everything that I am to help them, heal them and give them hope. Legalizing doctor-prescribed death breaks down a major fence that protects vulnerable people and would represent a seismic shift in the practice of medicine.
Lawmakers should reject these proposals.
— William Bolthouse serves as a volunteer physician at the Inner City Health Center in Denver. He is a former board member of the Summit Community Care Clinic in Frisco. He has lived in Colorado since 1991, and he and his family live in Littleton and Breckenridge.