The Complexities of Aid In Dying, Physician-Assisted Suicide

Sep 29, 2014

Caring for a loved one who is suffering at the end of life can be an ordeal, and many feel more options are needed.

Peg Sandeen, native Iowan and Executive Director of the Death with Dignity National Center in Oregon, says her husband’s death pushed her to advocate for the right of patients to have aid in dying, sometimes called “physician-assisted suicide.”

“It really was that early young exposure to a…very difficult suffering-filled dying experience, that I felt like medicine need to offer an alternative,” Sandeen says. “I felt like modern medical technology kept him alive far beyond a sort of natural state.”

National polls show that a slim majority of Americans would like to see laws that allow aid in dying. Polls also show that only a third of doctors are in favor.

During this episode of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Sandeen, as well as Dr. Lauris Kaldjian, , and Lori Bishop, Executive Director for Clinical Transformation for UnityPoint at Home.

Dr. Kaldjian opposes the idea of physician-assisted suicide, since he has concerns about asking medical professionals to make these kinds of decisions. He says that allowing physicians to aid in the dying process would completely change medical practitioners’ mindset when caring for patients.

“This basic respect for life is the fundamental pillar, so that if one ever thinks about intentionally causing death or hastening death, one has crossed that boundary into a different terrain,” he says.

Since aid in dying is not legal in Iowa, and not likely to be any time soon, palliative and hospice care remain the foremost source of pain management for those facing the near prospect of death.

Bishop, who has worked in palliative and hospice care for 22 years, says the most important thing in any tough medical diagnosis is to emphasize quality of life, rather than focusing on length, which can work in a patient’s favor.

“Sometimes pain and suffering is added to, when we’re just trying to keep someone alive, instead of focusing on symptom management and quality of life,” she says. “People who choose quality of life over quantity oftentimes actually live longer, because…they’re feeling better, their symptoms are well managed.”