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Coalition Voices – When Talking About PAS, Words Matter

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Our new blog forum, Coalition Voices, will feature thoughts and personal stories from members of the Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide Coalition. In the first installment Dr. Joseph Marine, Associate Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, expresses his grave concerns about how physician-assisted suicide drugs are presented to the public.

Please join Dr. Marine and the many healthcare professionals against physician-assisted suicide by signing up for the new coalition Care Without Harm: Maryland Healthcare Professionals Against PAS.

When Talking About PAS, Words Matter

What is the difference between a medicine and a poison? The short answer lies in whether the product helps you live or helps you die. When a chemical compound is used to provide a therapeutic or medicinal effect to enhance or prolong life, that product is commonly called “medication.” But when that same compound’s intended use is reversed, the end result is a much different story. When the effects of said compound are used to end life, we call it a “poison.” The medical community endeavors to ensure that we “do no harm” when caring for our patients. Why then are supporters of physician-assisted suicide (PAS) misusing the word “medication” in order to mislead legislators and the public?

It is important to make the distinction between medication and poison and understand the context in which it is used. A good is example is warfarin sodium, also known as Coumadin®. Warfarin is a very valuable and important medication when used in low doses to treat patients with certain cardiac issues. But in very high doses, warfarin is sometimes used as a poison to kill rodents.

Without proper supervision, almost any medicine could become a poison when taken in high doses. Practitioners of physician-assisted suicide have been utilizing this concept when experimenting with new drug concoctions to “help” patients with advanced illnesses end their lives, sometimes with disastrous results. One news report describes the use of new cocktails of cheaper PAS drugs used in response to a price spike in secobarbital (Seconal®). One combination of chloral hydrate, phenobarbital, and morphine sulfate did not lead to “death with dignity” for these patients:

“The first Seconal alternative turned out to be too harsh, burning patients’ mouths and throats, causing some to scream in pain. The second drug mix, used 67 times, has led to deaths that stretched out hours in some patients — and up to 31 hours in one case.”

When words are used truthfully to describe what is really happening with physician-assisted suicide, support for it will fall significantly.

The End of Life Options Act that was defeated in the Maryland General Assembly this year uses the word “medication” over 30 times in reference to PAS drugs. But the word “poison” is not used a single time. The End of Life Options Act tried to mislead legislators and the public. It is telling that for three years in a row, physician-assisted suicide legislation has failed to pass in Maryland.

We should work together to make sure that it never passes.

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