I am confused by the ongoing dispute about whether we should legalize assisted suicide in Montana. I am a medical doctor whose patients include incarcerated persons. Law enforcement, jails and prisons are mandated to monitor for signs of depression and suicidal ideation and to identify, intervene and/or initiate treatment. We are told that our failure to do so would be a significant breach of an inmate's civil rights. Yet according to proponents of assisted suicide, patients also have a right to receive a doctor's assistance with the suicide. This makes no sense.
On the one hand, you have a group of people (prisoners) who suffer from situational depression due to their circumstances. Suicide attempts in this population are not rare.
On the other hand, you have a group of people (diagnosed with a terminal diagnosis) who suffer from situational depression due to their circumstances. Why is one group entitled to protection and the other is not? Is it because with the second group, you call it "aid in dying" because people are dying anyway? They may not be dying anyway.
Doctors’ diagnoses can be wrong. I have seen patients in my own practice live longer than expected. What about an older inmate? Would he be entitled to protection or a lethal dose? This all strikes me as very Orwellian and also discriminatory to people labeled terminal. I thought freedom from discrimination was a constitutional right.
I have seen suicidal people get better, and rebuild lives that looked pretty grim. I do not agree that doctors or anyone else should be steering people to suicide in Montana. I hope that our Legislature will clarify once and for all that assisted suicide is not legal in Montana.
Carley C. Robertson, MD