Book Review: Euthanasia is Not the Answer-A Hospice Physician's View

September 1, 1995

Recent broad interest in euthanasia and assisted suicide by society at large has prompted this review of euthanasia. This fine,

Recent broad interest in euthanasia and assisted suicide by societyat large has prompted this review of euthanasia. This fine, concise,and readable book completely defines the issues, both moral andprofessional, that are central to the euthanasia debate.

The author argues that the failure to adequately treat the painand other symptoms experienced by the terminally ill patient isconfused with a lack of choice and dignity in the dying process.He notes that the poor education and training in pain and symptommanagement received by health-care professionals often resultsin uncontrolled symptoms, during which time a patient may requesteuthanasia. Despite this situation, however, terminal patientsrarely ask for euthanasia or assisted suicide.

Insights into patients' reasons for requesting assisted deathare descriptively portrayed in case presentations arising fromthe author's personal experiences as a hospice physician.

Traditional arguments against euthanasia are enumerated brieflybut effectively: The "slippery slope" argument holdsthat the few cases of euthanasia that may appear to be justifiedcould result in a vast number of immoral executions. Also, anylaw legalizing euthanasia could easily extend its indicationsbeyond mercy killing. Moreover, according to the author, the diagnosisand, more likely, the prognosis of "terminal" cancer,are frequently incorrect. Of major concern to the medical professionis that legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide will bringabout the irreversible destruction of the doctor/patient relationship.Another concern is that the right to die will soon become theduty to die.

Recent voter referendums on euthanasia are described in some detail,along with the prohibition of euthanasia by the world's majorreligions. The frightening experience with euthanasia in Hollandprovides a major incentive against any nation's adopting a myopicview on this issue.

Finally, the book describes, in excellent detail, the use of opioidsin cancer pain management. Also, the hospice alternative is explainedfully and expertly.