Mental Health Concerns Cannot Be Ignored in Assisted Suicide Debate
During the House committee hearing on HB 404, the lead proponent of the bill from Compassion and Choices (formerly the Hemlock Society) argued with a straight-face that requiring a patient to receive a mental health evaluation before they could qualify for physician assisted suicide would “unnecessarily slowdown” a patient’s access to assisted suicide. They cited statistics that cite a shortage of mental health professionals in Maryland and argue that only 14% of mental health practitioners in Maryland could see a patient within four weeks (implying that the rest would be much longer wait times.)
Their argument may seem truly unbelievable to those watching the physician assisted suicide debate. However, the tie between mental health, depression, and assisted suicide is no longer a matter of conjecture.
A recent medical study led by researchers at Harvard Medical School, the University of Michigan and the University of the Netherlands, and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association – Psychiatry, was flagged recently in the New York Times, and examines this exact issue.
The study, quite chillingly, “raises questions about the practice [assisted suicide], finding that in more than half of approved cases, people declined [mental health] treatment that could have helped, and that many cited loneliness as an important reason for wanting to die. The study, of cases in the Netherlands, should raise concerns for other countries debating where to draw the line when it comes to people’s right to die, experts said.”
The report in the New York Times is well worth the read. The findings of the study leave us more confident than ever that Maryland risks dangerous negligence if they pass this bill and allow those with mental health issues to access physician assisted suicide.
This legislation’s proponents are emphatic that mental health issues will never be a factor in allowing people to utilize assisted suicide…but we are already skeptical of the insistence that there is no link in the physical conditions. More salient, however, is the fact that mental health is an accepted reason for assisted suicide in other countries.
Where does that leave us? It leaves us with the unsettling findings of this study. Again, proponents want to sweep this under the rug.